Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh, Alice Hoffman, Why so Dark?

I know it, I know it, you're not supposed to make assumptions about writers based on their subject matter though we do it all the time, especially in book group discussions. In my continuing quest to catch up on all of the Alice Hoffman novels I've missed, I listened to The Story Sisters over the past couple of weeks and, oy vay, this is her darkest one yet. I, at least, can't help but wonder what was going on in her head or heart when she wrote this tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. It's so relentlessly depressing.

All the elements are there for the asking; the parents' divorce with the dad getting so caught up in his new life that he forgets his three daughters, the mother, Annie, so centered on her own pain that she totally fails to see her daughters' strange behavior, the girls, Elv, Meg and Claire, living in a fantasy world where no one can hurt them, speaking their own invented language, burying themselves in their loss.

And then the catalyst for Elv's unraveling, which we learn about in doled out little bits of information throughout the novel, not really quite understanding the evil that's been done. Elv, kidnapped, molested, sacrifices herself to save her younger sister Claire, who can never bring herself to talk about that fateful day. When Elv returns home she is astounded that her mother can't intuit what has happened. When Annie seems oblivious, Elv begins the long years of acting out that will all but destroy the fragile Story family.

Cutting herself, by the very nature of the act, a cri de coeur for attention, goes unnoticed. Sneaking out at night, promiscuity, drugs, anti-social behavior, all result in Elv's being sent away to an institution for incorrigible teens, and adds up to a tale of hopelessness that any good reviewer simply can't recommend. Why would you want to spend time with these people? Perhaps it all goes back to my earlier question - why do we read? Perhaps, in this case, it's to say, "there but for the grace of god, go I."

Though some remnant of salvation evolves in the end, I just don't know that it's worth the wait. Ms. Hoffman's writing is, as always, that beautifully overused word, "luminous." That will never change. Next up, The Paris Wife. Too bad, we all already know how THAT worked out!

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