How in the world did I manage to leave off my most anticipated summer read, by Alice Hoffman, one of my all-time favorite writers, from my one-line reviews post? Could be because I’m still processing my complicated reaction to Story Sisters.
My usual feeling after completing a new Alice Hoffman novel is rapture, pure and simple. This time it was a little more complex. Hoffman has a trademark combination of the domestic and the magical going for her and usually it charms me and lifts me up out of my ordinary humdrum life. It’s like, no matter how dark the story, there is a ribbon of beauty and magic running through the air, away from harm and dirt, up in the blue, blue sky. And that magic saves the characters from dirty realism.
Not so much with Story Sisters.
Hoffman is too skilled a storyteller for me to simply dismiss anything she writes. Her language alone is worth the read. This plot was also engrossing, following three sisters growing up in a small New England town who image their own fairy kingdom, just out of their human reach, complete with a language only they understand. The sisters long to return to their fairy kingdom, where they believe they will be happy and at peace. But with adolescence comes darker days for the once pretty place in their imaginations.
This is where the book takes a turn and has me asking “Is this about magic or mental illness?” Not that Hoffman’s books always focus on the light, exclusively. Plenty of darkness befalls Hoffman characters. It’s just that always before, the magic somehow remained intact, and pure. Above it all. This time, whether she did it purposely or unconsciously, for me anyway, the magic got corrupted. It felt like an illusion of childhood.
It is as if Hoffman signals her readers with this book that magic is for children, and dangerous at that. Which was, after twenty novels celebrating the incandescence of daily life, kind of a letdown.