Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):    Alice Hoffman's most magical novel to date, three generations of extraordinary women are driven to unite in crisis and discover the rewards of reconciliation and love.
Women of the Sparrow family have unusual gifts. Elinor can detect falsehood. Her daughter, Jenny, can see people's dreams when they sleep. Granddaughter Stella has a mental window on the future - a future that she might not want to see. In The Probable Future this vivid and intriguing cast of characters confronts a haunting past - and a very current murder - against the evocative backdrop of small-town New England. By turns chilling and enchanting, The Probable Future chronicles the Sparrows's legacy as young Stella struggles to cope with her disturbing clairvoyance. Her potential to ruin or redeem becomes unbearable when one of her premonitions puts her father in jail, wrongly accused of homicide. Yet this ordeal also leads Stella to the grandmother she was forbidden to meet and to a historic family home full of talismans from her ancestors.

And here's what I thought:  Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors.  I love the way she blends magic into her stories, and how her characters are interesting and complex.  Her stories tend to feature women, and this story was as good as I had hoped it would be.   As you can see from the above summary, the story focuses on three generations of women who have unusual gifts.  They aren't the only ones in their family -- this history of gifts goes all the way back to the beginning of their family line of women, women who have shaped not only the town that they live in, but the family house, Cake House, as well.    Cake House is as much a character as anyone in this story -- haunting and intriguing all at once.

Stella comes into her magic on her thirteenth birthday, as is traditional for the Sparrow women.  What she doesn't realize is how her gift will start a chain reaction of events, leading not only her to her grandmother and Cake House, but her mother, Jenny, as well.   The way that Stella's relationship with both women develops is at times somewhat maddening (she is, after all, 13 ... and we all know how the moods of a 13 year-old can move quickly from joy to fury in an instant), but it's interesting to see how she really grows as a person through this story.   And it's not just her story --- it's about Jenny, who is forced to confront her own truths about her relationship with not only her ex-husband, but her mother, as well.   It's about Elinor, who hasn't seen Jenny in years, and who has been so focused on her own work that she's basically excluded the rest of the world.

I love how Hoffman's writing just flows, and how her descriptions of people capture my imagination.  Take, for example, what she writes about Will (Jenny's ex-husband): "That Will was unfaithful should have been evident:  whenever he lied, white spots appeared on his fingernails, and each time he was with another woman, he developed what Jenny's mother had called "liar's cough," a constant hacking, a reminder that he'd swallowed the truth whole."  (p. 13)     I always find that I get completely caught up in her stories, just sitting and reading (and finding that an entire hour has gone by before I know it).   The edition that I read also had a great section at the end that's a Q&A with the author. 

First sentences:  Anyone born and bred in Massachusetts learns early on to recognize the end of winter.  Babies in their cribs point to the brightening of the sky before they can crawl.  Level-headed men weep at the first call of the warblers.  Upstanding women strip off their clothes and dive into inlets and ponds before the ice has fully melted, unconcerned if their fingers and toes turn blue.
Thoughts on the cover:  I actually read this as an e-book, but after seeing the cover art on GoodReads, I think it's a nice match for the story.  From the image, you can't tell necessarily which of the women this might be, which I like.  It seems like she is surrounded by light, and just lifting off her toes -- very cool.


Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

Lovely review. Thanks for sharing. I've never read Alice Hoffman but I'm now quite intrigued.

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