Chicago Tribune Review: ‘Story Sisters’ by Alice Hoffman

June 11, 2009 at 10:53 pm Leave a comment

Alice Hoffman’s ‘Story Sisters’ leaves us bewitched

Julia Keller | CHICAGO TRIBUNE CULTURAL CRITIC
To create her latest novel, “The Story Sisters” (Shaye Areheart), Alice Hoffman rose each day before dawn to write. “I wanted to get that dream quality,” she said in a recent phone interview. “To get at that kind of truth. To be free.”

It worked. “The Story Sisters,” the 18th novel by a writer whose books have included an Oprah Book Club selection (“Here on Earth”) and the 1995 novel that begat the 1998 movie of the same name, “Practical Magic,” starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, is, like its predecessors, an intoxicating blend of cloud-cavorting magic and down-to-earth reality.

“I still don’t really understand why and how it came to be. I wrote it as a fairy tale, and I think I just channeled it,” Hoffman said of “The Story Sisters.”

Hoffman is celebrated for her ability to conjure plausible alternative realities, to sprinkle her landscapes with witches and other mythical creatures, while keeping her stories closely tethered to familiar terrain. There’s a mysticism that swirls about her works but, like a late-morning fog, it eventually burns off to reveal a physical and emotional topography that most all of us can recognize. She writes about parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives; she writes about people living in big cities and small towns, beneath a moon that waxes and wanes — and watches.

The characters in “The Story Sisters” include a trio of siblings — Elv, Meg and Claire — who share an ethereal bond that is tested by all-too-real issues such as drug addiction, abusive relationships and serious illness. The novel is whimsical and heartbreaking.

And she created it on a succession of dreamy mornings, Hoffman recalled. “It’s such a good time to write fiction. But this novel really did affect me deeply. When I was writing parts of it, I was having nosebleeds. That had never happened to me before. It was so scary.

“I did an outline. Then I completely changed it. These characters surprised me. They started doing their own thing,” she added. “It’s about how kids can all grow up in the same household and turn out so incredibly different. It’s about how mothers and children can never know each other completely. You live parallel lives.”

Despite the grim fates that often befall her characters, Hoffman is an optimist, she said. “I see the world as hopeful. As a writer, I believe in redemption. And I believe we make narratives out of our lives in order to make sense of them.

“No matter what happens with the Internet, books are not going to die. Fiction is the truest thing we have.”

Copyright Tribune Corp. 2009, All Rights Reserved
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Entry filed under: Fiction. Tags: , , , .

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