Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman — 9781440673757 — ***
Time to Read: 2 Days
It’s no secret: The women of the Owens family are witches. Or, at least the aunts–who use spells and potions to meddle in peoples’ love lives–are. When Sally and Gillian’s parents die in an accident, they go to live with the aunts, who run a lawless household that encourages junk food and discourages bedtimes. Despite this, however, the girls long for some sense of normalcy. Sally insists on cooking healthy dinners, doing laundry and cleaning the house. Gillian grows fed up with the name calling from her peers and runs away with her boyfriend when she turns eighteen.
Although she misses her sister, Sally stays with the aunts, finding love of her own and marrying a kind-natured man with whom she has two daughters: the pretty and spoiled Antonia and the shy and sweet-natured Kylie. When Sally’s husband is killed by a teen-aged drunk driver, she falls into a depression that causes her to spend a year withdrawn from the world. When she begins to recover from the shock of losing her husband, Sally packs up her girls and moves to Long Island, where no one has ever heard of the Owens family. Together, they settle into a normal life. At least until the long-roaming Gillian returns with bruises on her face and a dead boyfriend in the car.
I have to say that, despite my love for the movie that is (very loosely) based off this book, I was less than impressed by Alice Hoffman’s book Practical Magic. I found the writing style difficult to appreciate, as the entire book is written in present-tense and riddled with dizzying flash-backs and flash-forwards. It jumps from scene to scene and character to character with little warning. The transitions are done in such a casual way, that I often found myself flipping back and re-reading, thinking I had missed a page. One sentence might start off talking about the here and now, then jump back in time, forward in time, change characters, or change from Long Island to Texas. Past, present and future tense flip-flop within paragraphs and sentences in a maddening way that made me feel that, were this Alice Hoffman’s first book, an editor would have had a field day with it if he didn’t just turn it down all together. It is almost purely narrative, and the characters are almost impossible to connect with because they seem so detached. Reading it is like standing outside looking through a window and trying to feel involved with the people on the other side of the glass.
The story itself wasn’t bad. In fact, if it had been written a little differently, it might have been cute. Despite the writing style, I was able to enjoy parts of it, and it was a very fast, easy read. This is just one of those rare instances in which the movie is better than the book.
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