Sunday, February 07, 2010

Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

I like the way Hoffman interjects bits of magic into seemingly normal, every day stories. She does it so casually, in such a matter of fact way, that a reader almost believes that magic must exist around us, just as it does in Hoffman's books. At least that's what I choose to believe and I suppose these books seem to validate my own beliefs. There are fairies hovering in the window, demons hiding in the corners, pure thoughts create pure action, just as anger conjures evil.

The Story Sisters: A Novel is about three sisters in New York City who also have family in Paris that they visit. Their parents split up and their lives begin to fall apart. They try to cope by creating a magical world of their own, their own language and magical creatures. But then something truly horrible happens to one of the sisters and sets her on a path of self destruction. The magic created with her sisters loses its power and she turns to harsh reality of theft and drugs and sex.

I understand that we're supposed to feel sympathetic toward Elv because what happened was very bad and this is her way of coping. But she did terrible things to her family. She was so self-absorbed and didn't seem to care about who she was hurting. I hated her. As a reader, I knew that she'd had this bad experience (something the other characters in the story didn't know) but I still didn't feel sorry for her. She didn't seem tough, she seemed pathetic. Her actions ended up ruining the lives of the people who loved her the most. Any time someone tried to help her, she did her best to hurt that person more.

It's a very sad book, one tragedy after another. To some extent it seemed like too much. These sisters did nothing to deserve such a horrible life and yet things kept getting worse for them.

What I did like about the book though was the scenes in Paris. One of the sisters, Claire, goes to Paris to try to get away from the sadness. Her grandmother is there, and all of her grandmothers friends provide the support system that she needs to move on with her life. I loved the descriptions of Paris and the different colors in the sky. I thought of that on my recent trip to Paris, and I noticed the colors in the sky, the pink and orange and yellow as the sun sets in the evening. Also, when I walked around some of the neighborhoods, I noticed the little glass figures in the windows of shops and I thought of Claire's creations.

There's a hint of happily ever after in the end. The bad sister seeking redemption and I suppose we're expected to view her as a recovered person, but I felt too wary based on her past actions. I couldn't forgive, even if the rest of her family did.

I suppose I liked the book, without liking all of the characters.

finished reading a bit before 5 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2010