PRACTICAL MAGIC

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 divorcÇes 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. (Book-of-the-Month Club selection)

Pub Date: June 14, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14055-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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