Review: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: October 28 to November 13, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

People say if you face your worst fear, the rest is easy, but those are people who are afraid of rattlesnakes or enclosed spaces, not of themselves and the horrible things they’ve done.

[…]

Life was beautiful, everyone knew that, but it was also bitter and bleak and unfair as hell and where did that leave a person? On the outs with the rest of the world. Someone who sat alone in the cafeteria, reading, escaping from his hometown simply by turning the page.

[…]

I think of life as a book of stories. You move through the stories and the characters change. But once you have a name on your skin you are stuck with one story, even if it’s a bad one.

[…]

Don’t make me sit through reality.

Alice Hoffman has a nice way with words, even when those words are hard to swallow.

I don’t read contemporary fiction much these days or at all. I’m like the people who adamantly refuse to read genre fiction because sci-fi and fantasy? Ugh. But I’m like the exact opposite of those people.

Contemporary fiction? Ugh. About people? You lost me… fine. What’s so special about them? What do you mean none of them shift into animals or mythological creatures? What do you mean none of them are aliens crash-landing on our planet? What do you mean this city is set in our world and our timeline? What do you mean there’s no apocalypse in this story?!?!?!

I read contemporary fiction like I used to read assigned books: reluctantly and kicking and screaming all the way. Well, maybe not so much kicking, but there’s definitely screaming. And expletives. It’s all because contemporary fiction is too close to real life, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. It’s like a shadow of real life, without the weight or consequence or closure. And oftentimes, contemporary authors leave their stories wide open just so you have something to “think about” (e.g. gnaw on while you curse their books). If I wanted reality, I’d turn to nonfiction. It’s the better imitation of reality, anyway.

That’s why I rarely read contemporary fiction. So I just wanted to explain that while this book is, by contemporary fiction’s standard, a perfectly good book with lots of things that would interest readers who like contemporary fiction, such as sharp prose, strong willed but broken characters, haunted pasts, difficult relationships, deep explorations of those relationships, and some magical realism near the end, it’s not for me. Save for the magical realism, the other things are just not what I’m interested in or look for in my reads–to much drama, not enough otherworldly-ness, and I prefer the other way around. Personal preference and all that.

The premise is this: Shelby Richmond and a friend were involved in an accident years ago. Shelby walked away from it, and the friend didn’t. The rest of the book is about how grief and guilt, mainly how Shelby deals with both as she constantly carries them around, as they constantly loom over every aspect of her life. So she learns to live with them, and then later on when she moves away to New York, to deal with them. There she meets other similarly broken people, and they teach she valuable lessons about dealing with the past and moving on. But finally, it’s her friend’s mother who helps Shelby through it the most.

I couldn’t connect to this story, so I can’t sum it up in a way that really represents what it’s really about. Good thing someone at Kirkus Reviews did just that. Just a warning though, there are a lot of spoilers in that summary, but I think the last line sums up this book quite nicely: “A novel full of people—flawed, scarred, scared—discovering how to punish themselves less and connect with others more.”

All in all, this book isn’t as magical or beautiful as the cover led me to believe, but that’s on me. I shouldn’t have assumed it’s anything like Practical Magic.

Other than those few “minor” things, this is a perfectly fine book, and I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy. It seems I won it from a Goodreads giveaway, but I don’t remember entering… Not complaining. I rarely say no to free books. It’s just weird that I don’t remember.

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: September 10 to 13, 2013
Read count: 3

Even though I’ve read this book a few times before, it’s just as good as the first time.

Alice Hoffman has what I call a cinematic style of bringing fairy-tale-like narrations to contemporary story and setting, specifically New England. So it’s no surprise when this book was turned into a movie not long after publication. As a matter of fact, the movie is better known than the book. There are people who still don’t know the movie is only an adaptation.

Book

  • What I’ve always liked about this book is that it stays true to the traditions of fairy tales in that consequences are serious and often times permanent, ugly, and have a way of catching up to you. No action goes unpunished.
  • What I’ve come to like and understand about the characters in this book is that Hoffman writes female characters in her own particular way. Although these characters are grounded in their emotions and repeatedly influenced by mysterious magical entities, they seem most realistic, most relateable, when they are at their most vulnerable moments.
  • What I still don’t like about the story is how Jimmy’s ghost is dealt with so easily just by having the aunts come to Sally’s house and whisking him away. I enjoy the haunting and darker elements of the story up until this point.

Movie

  • Both the book and movie are different enough for each to stand on its own.
  • What the movie has, and the book lacks, is a fun sunny New England atmosphere, whereas the tone and atmosphere in the book are dark, foreboding, though still New England.
  • Sally and Gillian, as portrayed in the movie, lack the depth, devotion, and connection that Sally and Gillian in the book have; however, the movie makes up for it by showing the sisters’ stories as they unfold, instead of telling, which is what the book does in much of the narration.
  • Magic and the Aunts play bigger roles in Sally’s and Gillian’s lives here and adds a closeness and a familial layer to the story that isn’t in the book.

Audio

  • This story translates very well to audio. It’s as though it was written to be read aloud.

Original review can be found here.