Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Faithful," by Alice Hoffman

I have ambivalent feelings about Alice Hoffman’s novels. As I wrote on 5/11/15 in a post about her novel “The Story Sisters,” I had gradually stopped reading her novels because of the magical element (although I did enjoy “The Story Sisters”). I have a bit of a bias against novels with magical aspects, although I have read plenty of them over the years, including many by South American writers. In the case of Alice Hoffman’s writing, this bias is somewhat balanced by my enjoyment of her focus on families and especially sisters, and on the lives of young girls growing up. Thus the ambivalence. On a swing back toward her novels, I just read “Faithful” (Simon & Schuster, 2016), and although it too had a bit of low-key but important (seeming) magic in it, I liked it very much. The main character, a young woman named Shelby, has experienced a terrible loss, and blames herself for it. She retreats from the world, is angry and sad, shaves her head, and in general does not engage with life any more than she absolutely has to. But (and I know this sounds corny and too-easily-inspiring, but it works) she gradually, very gradually, finds small reasons and then bigger reasons to re-engage with people and the world. She is fortunate to have people who believe in her and care about her even when she pushes them away. She moves to and gradually falls in love with New York. She starts, by happenstance and with reluctance, rescuing unfortunate dogs, and they become a big part of her reconnection to the world. She connects to the family of her co-worker and becomes a sort of surrogate big sister to the children in that family. She finds romance, albeit romance with twists and wrong turns along the way. She goes to college and is headed toward a satisfying career. In a way the story is predictable, but it is also fresh and original, and contains some real surprises as well. Shelby is a unique character whom the reader cannot help rooting for.
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