by Alice Hoffman
A prequel to the book, Practical Magic. Having not yet read that book, I went in without knowing the characters or where the story might go.
The Owens children, Franny, Jet and Vincent, are 'unusual' and are given specific rules to help them avoid situations where they might do magical things. No walking in moonlight, red shoes, cats, crows, books on magic and definitely never fall in love.
I found the style quick, clipped and very fast moving through the early part of the book as a lot of background information was explained. The one thing I really didn't like is that there are no chapters! I know Pratchett gets away with this but for me, it makes it difficult to set daily reading goals. It took longer to read this one as a result. The book is divided up into six parts, but I didn't feel that those separations made much of a difference to the overall flow.
I think the lack of chapters was a factor in me starting to lose interest early on, though mainly I just didn't connect with any of the characters. I found their cousin April to be particularly irritating. Everything just seems to ramble on endlessly moving from one scene to another without any plot demarcations to stand out and make a point. The issue of falling in love went through a predictable development in true fairytale form, but the emphasis on restrictions along the way felt overdone.
The writing itself was good and I expect fans of Practical Magic will enjoy this a lot more than I did. It just didn't grip me and I expect that already having a connection to the characters from the other story would make the difference.
I rather like Amazon's idea of having collections of short stories, written by well-known writers and available as Kindle and audiobook versions.
One of these collections is called 'Inheritance' and focuses on family secrets and their consequences.
When I saw that one of these stories was by Alice Hoffman, I was excited. When I heard the opening sentences, I knew I had to have a copy:
'There are those who insist that mothers are born with love for their children and place them before all other things, including their own needs and desires. This was not the case with us.'
The dispassionate tone of the second sentence was the hook for me, a move into a minor key that says, 'something is very wrong here and has been wrong for some time.
So I spent an hour listening to Alice Hoffman's precise prose describing a girl's deep understanding of her mother's loveless nature, her choice to stop speaking after her father's death and her decision, as she comes of age, on how to put a stop to her mother's behaviour and achieve her own freedom by learning one of the lessons her mother taught her: put your own needs first.
Brittany Pressley's narration sets exactly the right tone for the story. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.
Alice Hoffman is an incredibly accomplished and versatile writer who has been solidly publishing for close to five decades. I've been reading her for thirty years - my first book by her was Turtle Moon, all the way back in the 1990's. I've read probably half dozen of her books.
Faithful is a contemporary story that is pretty light on her trademark magical realism. The basic plot revolves around Shelby, who is 17 when she is the driver in a horrific traffic accident that leaves her best friend, Helene, in a coma. Shelby's life is destroyed right along with Helene's - her guilt and self-hatred are so all consuming that she feels that she has no right to any level of happiness.
There were parts of the book that worked for me, and parts that really didn't. There is a lot of trauma in this book, and it times it veers into trauma porn. The best part of the book, to me, was the relationship between Shelby and her mother, Sue.
The two elements of magical realism didn't really work. There is a minor subplot dealing with Helene that suggests that she has healing powers. This was completely peripheral to the story and made no sense. There was also a plot device where Shelby periodically received postcards that told her to "Say Something" when she wasn't able to speak due to trauma, or "Do Something" when she was thinking about moving away from her home to NYC. These ended up having a fairly pedestrian explanation that also didn't work for me at all.
The writing is excellent, because Alice Hoffman can definitely write. And I found Shelby's arc as she puts her life back together to be really touching. She made some terrible decisions along the way, but she made some good ones, too, most particularly in her choice of befriending a single mom named Maravelle with three kids. That relationship, along with her relationship with her mom, anchors Shelby.
This isn't a romance, but Shelby's relationships with a few men are explored. This was the least effective part of the book to me, although her nearly relentless tendency to self-sabotage made sense and was consistent with both her character and with what a person who considers herself worthless would do.
I'd say that this is a lesser Hoffman, but I still couldn't stop reading it and finished it in a couple of hours. It ends on a hopeful note - we leave Shelby with the sense that she will be okay, and that she has earned her redemption.
I'm taking a page from Tigus's book (see what I did there, lol) and posting my next 4 planned books!
Faithful by Alice Hoffman - currently reading
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
Sleeping Beauty by Ross MacDonald
Down Among the Dead Men by Patricia Moyes