cover image Signal Fires

Signal Fires

Dani Shapiro. Knopf, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-53472-4

Shapiro returns after the memoir Inheritance with a beautiful exploration of the connections between two families and the reverberations from a teenager’s lie. In 1985 Avalon, N.Y., 15-year-old Theo Wilf drives his 17-year-old sister Sarah and her friend Misty home after a night of partying. After he accidentally drops the car lighter down his shirt, he crashes the car into the tree in front of their house. Ben, Theo and Sarah’s surgeon father, rushes to save Misty’s life, but fails, and in an impulsive decision, Sarah tells Ben that she was driving. Then, in 1999, shortly after the Shenkman family moves in across the street, Ben helps deliver their infant, Waldo, during an emergency birth. Shapiro continues to jump around in time, unspooling the consequences of these two fateful nights “like so many wobbly tops set spinning.” As Theo becomes a chef and Sarah a screenwriter, both wrestle with their guilt, while Ben, who never really gets to know the Shenkmans, is left alone to deal with his wife’s dementia and develops a bond with Waldo in 2010. Shapiro imagines in luminous prose how each of the characters’ lives might have gone if things had turned out differently. It’s an intriguing meditation. Agent: Margaret Riley King, WME. (Oct.)