Monday, July 27, 2009

What We’re Reading: Alice Hoffman

I have been an Alice Hoffman fan for a long time. Since Practical Magic came out in 1995, I can’t say that I have read every one of her books, but there are only a few I have missed. Her early works, like Turtle Moon and Second Nature, were a bit more lighthearted in some ways than her later fare, but the thing I like about her writing, even when she is dealing with dark subjects (spousal abuse in Here On Earth, murder in Blue Diary), is that she keeps her sense of whimsy intact. Hoffman is known as a writer of magical realism, but I find her much more accessible than some of the authors from that genre. The story isn’t about the magic, but the magic is always a part of the story, sometimes directly, but mostly as an added element that charms you through the serious moments, of which there are many. She essays it in such a matter-of-fact way that it seems merely a part of life rather than anything extraordinary. In her new book, The Story Sisters, she keeps these moments to a minimum, but they do pop up. In talking about an unhappy time in the life of the youngest sister, she writes,

“People wondered if Claire had ever fallen in love or walked arm in arm with a friend. She had become a cautionary tale, pitied, whispered about. Some of the older women kept butterfly nets in their shopping bags, ready and able to defend her should a demon happen to appear as she went walking by.”

Hoffman has achieved yet another enthralling read in this book, which is about the lives of three sisters who respond in radically different ways to a secret tragedy that happened to two of them in adolescence. It’s so inadequate to describe the book in this way, for it leaves out all of the intellect and emotion with which Hoffman bewitches you, and her language is, as ever, lyrical and expressive. If you haven’t read this author, try one of the books mentioned here, and see if you become a fan too.

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