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Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
Literary fiction

Signal Fires

by Dani Shapiro

Quick take

In this luminous and poignant novel, the many unexpected forces that define and shape families are deftly explored.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad



One Night. One Fateful Choice. A Constellation of Lives Changed Forever.

Signal Fires opens on a summer night in 1985. Three teenagers have been drinking. One of them gets behind the wheel of a car, and, in an instant, everything on Division Street changes. Each of their lives, and that of Ben Wilf, a young doctor who arrives on the scene, is shattered. For the Wilf family, the circumstances of that fatal accident will become the deepest kind of secret, one so dangerous it can never be spoken.

On Division Street, time has moved on. When the Shenkmans arrive—a young couple expecting a baby boy—it is as if the accident never happened. But when Waldo, the Shenkmans’ brilliant, lonely son who marvels at the beauty of the world and has a native ability to find connections in everything, befriends Dr. Wilf, now retired and struggling with his wife’s decline, past events come hurtling back in ways no one could ever have foreseen.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Signal Fires.

Why I love it

Signal Fires is a crowd-pleaser, by which I mean there are so many ways for every manner of reader to enjoy this novel. There’s the unforgettable story of the Wilf and Shenkman families, which grabs your heart from the first page and never lets go. There are the sentences, which spin ordinary words into golden threads of gorgeous imagery. And there are the profoundly moving observations about how certain before-and-after moments echo throughout our lifetimes and beyond.

This book enchanted me. Something undeniably mystical seems to be at work in the way the characters connect with one another. Time and again, split-second decisions cause rippling effects across the lives of family, friends, and neighbors for years to come. It will make you look at your own life and think about how the past is never really past, and how maybe there’s no such thing as a total stranger.

For longtime fans of Dani Shapiro’s writing, her return to fiction will feel like a culmination of so many fertile themes she has explored in her memoirs: family, faith, fate, choice, and consequence. It’s fun to see what happens when she pours all that thinking into a novel-shaped container. If Signal Fires is your first exposure to Shapiro’s storytelling, well, lucky you! This is a lovely place to start.

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Member ratings (2,030)

  • MarieJ E.

    Bean Station, TN

    There was so much about this book that I loved. The life-long connections made by a neighboring Doctor and the child he helped enter the world under difficult circumstances, and their family's lives.

  • Moriah H.

    Urbandale, IA

    Oof. This book is short, but each page is filled with beautiful, moving, emotionally heavy words. I felt this book was less about any specific story, but about how every story is intertwined. 5 stars!

  • Jodi F.

    Chicago, IL

    So good! Incredible writing, compelling story. I felt each character’s pain. Thanks again to BOTM for introducing me to another great author. Looking forward to reading more from her back catalogue.

  • Narci D.

    Valdosta , GA

    Two families living in an upscale neighborhood near NYC. Their points of view shift as does the year throughout the narrative but keeping track is easy. Redemptive and poignant. Loved Waldo & the Dr.

  • Courtney L.

    Phoenix, AZ

    Beautiful story of how past, present, and future can collide and affect each other in so many more ways than any of us realize. And how one small decision or mistake can create a completely new path