PRACTICAL MAGIC by Alice Hoffman


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Part of Hoffman's great talent is her wonderful ability to sift some magic into unlikely places, such as a latter-day Levittown (Seventh Heaven, 1990) or a community of divorc‚es in Florida (Turtle Moon, 1992). But in her 11th novel, a tale of love and life in New England, it feels as if the lid flew off the jar of magic -- it blinds you with fairy dust. Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned sisters, only 13 months apart, but such opposites in appearance and temperament that they're dubbed ""Day and Night"" by the two old aunts who are raising them. Sally is steady, Gillian is jittery, and each is wary, in her own way, about the frightening pull of love. They've seen the evidence for themselves in the besotted behavior of the women who call on the two aunts for charms and potions to help them with their love lives. The aunts grow herbs, make mysterious brews, and have a houseful of -- what else? -- black cats. The two girls grow up to flee (in opposite directions) from the aunts, the house, and the Massachusetts town where they've long been shunned by their superstitious schoolmates. What they can't escape is magic, which follows them, sometimes in a particularly malevolent form. And, ultimately, no matter how hard they dodge it, they have to recognize that love always catches up with you. As always, Hoffman's writing has plenty of power. Her best sentences are like incantations -- they won't let you get away. But it's just too hard to believe the magic here, maybe because it's not so much practical magic as it is predictable magic, with its crones and bubbling cauldrons and hearts of animals pierced with pins. Sally and Gillian are appealing characters, but, finally, their story seems as murky as one of the aunts' potions -- and just as hard to swallow. Too much hocus-pocus, not enough focus.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1995
ISBN: 0425190374
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Putnam