Anita Shreve, a bestselling author whose novels explored change, loss and troubled marriages, often against the backdrop of a real historical event, died Thursday at her home in Newfields, N.H. She was 71.

Publisher Alfred A. Knopf said the cause was cancer.

Shreve, born on Oct. 7, 1946, was a freelance magazine writer and a high school teacher before she tried her hand at writing novels. Her first, "Eden Close," about a long-ago crime and its aftermath, was published in 1989.

" 'Eden Close' is not a novel of suspense but one of sensibility," Carolyn Banks wrote in reviewing it for the New York Times. "Its insights are keen, its language measured and haunting."

Shreve's career, and her book sales, got a big boost in 1999 when Oprah Winfrey chose "The Pilot's Wife" (1998) — a book about a woman whose husband dies in a plane crash — for Oprah's Book Club.

"I'm still a bit stunned," Shreve told the Boston Globe after Winfrey called her personally to give her the news. The book was made into a 2002 television movie starring Christine Lahti.

In a 2002 interview with the New York Times, Shreve said that several of her books, including "The Pilot's Wife," had been inspired, in a sense, by one particular white-clapboard house on the coast of Maine, near where she spent her summer vacations.

She did not own the house, and in fact had never been in it, she said, but she took a picture of it, hung it over her desk and — relocating the house depending on the setting of her story — imagined people living there and the events that transformed their lives.

Often those events drew on actual ones. "The Pilot's Wife," she said, germinated when she overheard a snippet of conversation about a plane crash at a party. "Sea Glass" (2002), another book that used the house as a setting, was set against the Great Depression.

"Testimony" (2008) was inspired by real-life scandals involving boarding schools. And her most recent book, "The Stars Are Fire," published last year, draws on devastating wildfires that struck Maine in 1947.