Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Alice Hoffman

Book Reviewed: The Story Sisters, by Alice Hoffman

I enjoyed Alice Hoffman's The Red Garden so much that I decided I should read more of her work.  I started with The Story Sisters, her most recent novel before Garden, because I liked the book jacket synopsis.  Unfortunately, I was didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as I wanted to. 

The Story Sisters follows the three titular characters - Elv, Meg, and Claire - over a decade and a half of their lives.  We first meet the girls when they are young teens, several years after a horrible event that has united Elv and Claire against the outside world.  In order to escape some disturbing memories, Elv creates and lives deep inside a fantasy world in which she occasionally pulls her younger sisters.  Eventually, this leads to drug abuse and general recklessness.  Claire is deeply loyal to Elv and shares her secrets, but she also sees just how far Elv has fallen as they get older.  Meg, the middle sister, falls out of Elv's world and begins to wish her dangerous big sister would just disappear.  This leads to a series of tragic and melodramatic events that affect the next fifteen years of the sisters' lives in various ways. 

Like Dan Chaon's You Remind Me of Me (my worst read of 2010), there's tragic event after tragic event befalling these characters.  Luckily, unlike Chaon, Hoffman seems to have a real affection for her characters, and I respond very well to that affection.  I like an author who seems to want good things for her creations even when she's throwing piles of turds at them.  I wasn't always responsive to this book, and for a long time I harbored a deep dislike of Elv that mirrored Meg's own feelings towards her big sister.  I thought the last hundred pages of the book, though, really saved the whole thing.  There are some great characters here that will remind readers of other Hoffman creations.  I'm thinking of Pete the detective and Phillipe the doctor in particular.  Despite often rolling my eyes at the occasionall over-the-top dramatics in the book's first 200 pages, I couldn't help but get choked up a bit at the end.  I like a good redemption story, and The Story Sisters delivers in a big way on this theme. 

Despite not being particularly excited about The Story Sisters, I'm going to stick with reading more of Alice Hoffman's work in the coming months.  She gives me that pleasant, warm feeling that comes from spending time in the middle of an engrossing story, and she occasionally delivers a really lovely sentence.  I can't help but like her strange, magical worlds. 

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