book review: the story sisters by alice hoffman

the story sisters by alice hoffmanI have quickly become a big fan of Alice Hoffman this year, after devouring her novel The Dovekeepers back in June with my book club and curling up with Practical Magic this fall. I finished reading The Story Sisters almost a week ago and have continued to ruminate on this story and how best to review it since then.

First a description from goodreads.com:

The Story Sisters, charts the lives of three sisters–Elv, Claire, and Meg. Each has a fate she must meet alone: one on a country road, one in the streets of Paris, and one in the corridors of her own imagination. Inhabiting their world are a charismatic man who cannot tell the truth, a neighbor who is not who he appears to be, a clumsy boy in Paris who falls in love and stays there, a detective who finds his heart’s desire, and a demon who will not let go.

What does a mother do when one of her children goes astray? How does she save one daughter without sacrificing the others? How deep can love go, and how far can it take you? These are the questions this luminous novel asks.

I am still not sure if I can say that I enjoyed this novel. It is dark and brooding and complex with characters that are hard to love and relate to and a sort of fantastical element to the book that  even after finishing the story I am hard pressed to say if the author intended to be true or not.

At the base of this book is the story of three sisters, two of whom are deeply traumatized after a kidnapping and sexual abuse experience that is miraculously brief, lasting less than 24 hours. They never tell their parents or the third sister, but instead retreat into a world of fantasy and fairies, made up languages and as they get older the elder sister retreats a bit further into a darker world of drugs and sex as she tries to harden herself from her fears.

There are also a few love stories, some very tragic experiences of loss, a beautiful example of how motherhood can save your life and a look at the passions and careers that the Story Sisters discover for themselves as they become adults.

Hoffman’s stories are all very different from each other, taking place in different times and places with different themes and tales. But one thing they all share in common is Hoffman’s ability to weave different lives together into one beautiful and intricate story. The other commonality in her stories would be imperfection. Her characters are fully fleshed out, realistically if sometimes fantastically broken people who have their faults as well as their strengths.

There are no shining, perfect heroines or heroes. Sometimes this can feel depressing, but by the end of her stories, I find myself appreciating the realness and grittiness to all of her characters. Because not only are all of the heroes flawed, but all of the flawed characters are also wonderful people who find their own kinds of redemption and happy endings.

The Story Sisters is a dark and brooding story that features a lot of tales of loss and hardship. It is one of those books that I must recommend with caution but recommend all the same. Any fans of Hoffman will want to read this story and anyone who has not had the pleasure of reading Alice Hoffman, really should do so immediately.