There are many moments in life where it will test you, sometimes leaving you in a place where either path causes a great deal of pain. How do you know which choice is best, or the right one? Myra Benning, the main character of Home Fires by Judith Kirscht, has her strength tested as a woman and mother when she discovers her husband’s affairs and a family scandal of molestation erupts involving her daughter Susan. Her mother-in-law Eleanor, a stubbornly “brave” woman, has the nerve to tell Myra to be an understanding wife by not ruining his career and accepting his infidelities.
If it were me, I would have booted my husband and his family out the door wasting no time changing the locks, but Myra’s character contains the strength of forgiveness on a level rare to come across. Her willingness took me by surprise at times because the situations dealt with violations I do not think I could ever try and look past for someone elses' benefit, regardless if they used to be a close family member. The affairs are only the beginning of her trials when an “innocent” hug yanks Susan into a disturbing flashback to a 50th birthday party at her grandparents' home when she was eight. The taunting questions then become what really happened to Susan and who did it.
This isn’t the first time Kirscht has included a strong female main character. Her last novel, The Inheritors, had the same positive going for it. Many times when a female is the lead, she ends up weakening at the knees and forgiving the man that hurt her or is only able to be saved by love and not herself. But not Myra Benning. Imagining myself in her shoes makes me think I would crumble at my seams, but she takes the whole situation by the reins and deals with it head on rather than turning a blind eye. Myra’s character was the most captivating, as a writer for a comic containing two witty rodents that earns her a comfortable living, bottomless love for her family, and desperation to see the beauty in anything.
Kirscht also has a knack for capturing the backdrop in a blissful, dreamlike manner with Home Fires set in the trendy California sun. The reader loses themselves at the SoCal beaches of Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz as Myra takes daily walks, soaking in every aqua and fresh green scene that passes. The reader can use the décor as a light reprieve from the incest and deceitful men leading double lives, giving the book a good balance.
Aside from the drama, a bigger picture comes through when twelve years has blurred by, and Myra rises up and makes the decision not to let her past define her new independent self. As a human, that is one of the hardest things to do, especially involving the traumatic events this book acknowledges. How many of us have said we would no longer put up with something, speak to someone negative, or deal with the same B.S. anymore, but just have trouble pulling the trigger? Myra Benning was not an unrealistic character, but when it came down to figuring out what needed to be done, she did it and stuck it through like a champ.
Home Fires has multiple reasons to be admired as a novel. It steps into the territory of the taboo and brings to light topics often easily and quietly swept under the rug by igniting them with a relatable plot and cast, a typical all-American family. Too often these crimes go ignored and unjustified due to the shame of coming forward and lack of proof. Whether this story encourages someone to speak out with their own, or feel less shame because they realized this can happen in even the most “normal” appearing situations, Judith Kirscht wrote a story worth sharing.