Monday, July 30, 2012

Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  For more than thirteen years, devoted father and husband Ethan Ford has been running from his past. But one day the police show up at his door -- and his life as an irreproachable family man and heroic volunteer fireman begins to come apart...

And here's what I thought:  I recently re-read this book, and it was nice to revisit one of my favorite books by Alice Hoffman.  If you've ever read Alice Hoffman, you know she sometimes works in subtle bits of magic (like in her books Practical Magic, and The Ice Queen).    In this book, there really isn't any magic, and it's a pretty sad story ---- but I really enjoy reading it.

The summary gives a pretty bare idea of what the story is about --- life seems great for Ethan Ford and his wife, and their son, Collie .... until one day, Ethan's past catches up with him.  I'm trying not to give away any spoilers here, so let me just say this: it turns out that Ethan isn't who he says he is, and he did something pretty terrible years ago, right around when he met his wife, Jorie.

This story isn't just about Ethan and Jorie, and how their lives completely get turned upside down, but it's also about their son, Collie, and his best friend, Kat.   The book examines relationships -- whether it's between friends, or sisters, a married couple, or the relationship that Jorie has with the small town they live in.  There is a lot of self-discovery in this story, and we get the viewpoints from Kat, and from Jorie, and even from Jorie's best friend, Charlotte.  What's interesting is that we don't get much from Ethan, himself ---- although what we get is important.  I suppose part of what I enjoy about this story is being a voyeur into all of these people's lives, experiencing the story from different viewpoints.

I also really love Alice Hoffman's writing --- not just her style, but how she creates characters that I can't stop reading about.  I wouldn't say that her writing is for everyone; if you enjoy spare, pointed writing, then her books probably aren't for you.  What I love is how she creates a sentence or a phrase --- sometimes, it's like I'm reading poetry.  I have been known to copy down certain sentences from her books, just so I can savor them over again.  Example: "But a nightmare is a different case entirely, it's a box of black shadows and vicious red stars, something to keep carefully closed, lest the ground below be broken in two." (p 120)    I enjoy getting lost in what she creates in her books, and I also like that there often are no truly happy endings for everyone in the stories (so that even if there are bits of magical realism in her books, there's never a sense that everyone is completely safe).

First lines:  It's the last morning of the month, a brutally gorgeous morning brimming with blue air and the sweet scent of honeysuckle which grows wild in the woods beyond Front Street, when Ethan Ford fails to show up for work.  On this glorious day, the brilliant sky is filled with banks of motionless white clouds, fleecy as sheep, but so obedient and lazy they haven't any need of a shepherd or a fence.


Annette Mills said...

I've never read anything by Hoffman, but I loved the movie Practical Magic and only realized it was based on a book! I've got that one on my list to read around Halloween (before I watch the movie again!) Great review!

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