Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Book Review: Practical Magic

Title: Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: B-

Summary (from Penguin For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. And Gillian and Sally endured that fate as well; as children, the sisters were outsiders. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, but all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One would do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they shared brought them back-almost as if by magic...

Review: I picked this book for the Modern Classics Challenge because I loved The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman and thought I'd try another one of her books. The premise of this story was interesting, as are all of Alice Hoffman's; she loves to write about family and community and integrates elements of magic and love into all of her stories. She weaves both of these into all types of relationships--inter-generational, male/female, and especially between siblings.

This particular book fell a little flat for me, compared to other works by Alice Hoffman that I've loved. I enjoyed the story, but I actually loved the guys in the story (the guys who loved the Owens women) more than the women themselves. I think the primary reason is that Hoffman did something unique in the way she told this story--dialogue was really scant and, rather than us figuring out the innerworkings of the characters and coming up with our own conclusions based on what they said and did, Hoffman came right out and told us. This book was almost entirely expository, told in a form of lyrical prose.

Additionally, Hoffman covers nearly thirty years of time in the story (all in only 244 pages), so it's covered at a break-neck speed, which is the likelist reason why Hoffman discarded dialogue and just told you what you needed to know. Another "weird" thing Hoffman did in this book is that it's entirely told in the present tense (all throughout the 30 year time span) rather than having a distinct point of view or being told in past tense (which is much more common); the beauty of the past tense is that you inherently feel that the characters have already experienced the plot and have learned their lessons, that's why you want to hear from them so you can learn too.

Here's an example:

"When evening falls, Kylie still doesn't know what to do. Gillian is at Ben's, but no one answers the phone when Kylie calls to ask Gillian if she thinks it's foolish for her to go to Gideon's. Why does she even want to? What does she care?"
The whole book reads like this "She does X. She is Y." It just makes for a very weird read and makes the characters more distant. I think that's also why I loved the guys more because the author didn't fully understand them and/or write them in a way that it appears she did not fully understood them, so I came to know them myself and had invested in getting to know them personally (rather than being told that I should love them).

That being said, it's a quick and easy read. If you're looking for something that is light and extols the virtues of strong family relationships and the beauty of head-over-heels love, than this book (which earned a B- from me) is a good book for you.


~Kylee in CT said...

I had the same issues when I read the book. I had already seen (and loved) the movie before I knew it was based on a book. I HAD thought that my issues we with having seen the movie 2 or 3 times before reading the book. After reading your review I think it was the language; the voice.

Jamie Moore said...

I wanted to read this one for the challenge too! Glad it's a good, quick, easy read! That sounds right up my alley!

Susan B. Evans said...

I just picked this one up at Half-Price Books and I can't wait to get into it :)

Tonya said...

I felt pretty much the same way, except I had seen the movie first and was expecting more of the sisterly bond that is shown in the movie. It just wasn't there and I felt let down.

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

I felt the same way! I loved Probable Future and other Hoffman books. Having seen the movie first my expectations may have been too high for the book, because usually the book is better than the movie. I did not feel that way in this case unfortunately.