Alice Hoffman: Practical Magic & The Rules of Magic

 

“There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.” 
― Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic

practical magic

The Owens women from Practical Magic  (film version) were a little definitive for me as a teen and young adult. Growing up in a Christian home (still a Christian), it may seem a little weird to some of my friends that I found a film about witchcraft to be so formative, but there it is. Essentially, it’s a contemporary (90s) fantasy/drama about two sisters, witches from a long line of witches, who rely on one another and ultimately set themselves free from a centuries-old curse. The curse? Any man they fall in love with will die. (There’s also a really evil boyfriend who gets killed, necromanced, and then killed for good.)

I fell in love with particular facets of the film: eccentric, maiden aunts in a Victorian house,  chocolate cake for breakfast (and midnight margaritas) , a garden by the sea full of lavender and rosemary,  the strong bond of sisterhood,  potions in the form of lotion and shampoo (before EOs were cool), and notion of cursed love.  For me, these  wove a spell of mischief, whimsy and melancholy that my young INFP heart found undeniable. Despite the B-rating Rotten Tomatoes gives this movie, I don’t think I was alone in this. I know so many people who still love this film today, and I’d argue that it is possibly even a cult classic.

So, when I finally started reading Practical Magic a few years ago, I was initially a little disappointed. Sally and Gillian, the sisters, did not fulfill my expectations as characters.  I actually preferred the film characters to their literary counterparts, which is an extremely unusual occurrence for me.  Though Hoffman is one of my favorite authors (for reasons I’ll discuss later),  I’ve got to be honest and admit that I have had this issue with her writing before. Somewhere between her third-person, omniscient point of view and her resistance to relying much on dialogue, I just have trouble connecting with her characters sometimes.

But by the time I finished reading Practical Magic, I decided that I actually loved the book. I just loved it in a different way than I expected.

“Writing itself was a magical act in which imagination altered reality and gave form to power.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

 Hoffman often writes in the genre of magical realism, and she nails it.  She blends together the real world and elements of magic so completely that, as a reader, the whole thing becomes seamless. It is all real. It is all magic. Something that definitely helps with this is that one of her great strengths is her ability to craft a vivid setting that draws you into the world of her book. In the case of Practical Magic (and the prequel, The Rules of Magic), much of this hinges on the Owen’s family home, a place of intense magic on the otherwise ordinary Magnolia Street.

Even more so,  Hoffman excels at crafting the world of her story around a theme.  The way she does this, especially in conjunction with the genre of magical realism, gives the adult reader a special gift: a novel that speaks to the heart in a way that only a true fairy tale can–revealing truths dark and deep, bright and sparkling. As someone who devours fiction, this is what I love.

rules of magic

So when The Rules of Magic, long-awaited prequel to Practical Magic, came out last October, I had already pre-ordered it.  Much more quickly than its sequel, I was hooked. I loved many of the same things about it as Practical Magic: the world-building, the fascinating omens, raw bits of wisdom, the whimsical tone. There were new things to draw me in, too. The setting of 1960s New York was fascinating, and I found myself much more engaged with the characters (younger versions of the aunts, and their brother, Vincent.) What I loved the most, though, was the way it took the pattern of themes that we find in Practical Magic and went deepersimultaneously dissecting  and expanding upon them.  There are many kinds of love explored in this work and–at the center of it all–heartbreak and startling truth. Two truths especially spoke to me in both of these books.

  1. Love is a curse.
  2. The only way to survive the curse of love is to love more.

If you’ve lost someone that you love, you’ll recognize this “curse” and the way it plays out for the Owens sisters in their fantastical setting. You know what it is to lie awake at night and fear the inevitable: that this curse of love is one that you will meet again and again. There is nothing you can do to escape it. It is a fearful, heavy thought. It’s more than sadness. It’s horror, with a kind of guilt attached that requires no logic. It’s something that not everyone understands–until they experience loss for themselves. However, it is a club that we will all join. At some point, we all realize that it’s a curse we will have to live with.

“I’m fated to lose everyone I ever love,” April said. “I already know that.” “Of course you are,” Jet responded in her calm, measured tone. “That’s what it means to be alive.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

It is tempting to reach the same conclusion that the characters in Practical Magic/The Rules of Magic do, at various times in the the narrative: don’t love at all, and the curse will be irrelevant.

However, as Hoffman explores in this duo of grown-up fairy tales, to attempt to resist love totally is to truly fall under the power of the curse (in addition to being just plain impossible). Yes, the curse of love is real, but the only way to break free of the curse it to continue to choose love, over and over again.

“Know that the only remedy for love is to love more.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

It’s a hard lesson to explain, one of those things you don’t get until you feel it. One of the reasons I love fiction is that it allows us to feel and understand things as though we’ve experienced them. It creates empathy with others and helps us to understand ourselves more deeply, too.

Don’t take my word for it though, I’d much rather you experience this particular truth-bomb in fiction form. Read it. I’d say read them both, but if you have to pick one, I’d go with The Rules of Magic.

“Love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it’s what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

I will give a disclaimer here for my friends who know and trust me as a Christian reader/writer: there are a lot of things in these books, beyond the practice of magic,  that you may be uncomfortable with. There is definitely a good bit of language, sexual content, and some plain old morally objectionable stuff. I definitely don’t recommend these for kids/teens, and I’d also caution my adult reader friends who avoid this type of content. Personally, these sorts of things don’t really stop me from reading books if I feel that the books have substantial redemptive literary/moral value (which I do in this case.) I realize, though, that I have many loved ones who feel differently, and that’s okay too.

20 Atmospheric Autumn Reads for Adults

…(An Alliterative Appellation)

…(Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)

Hello fellow readers, and happy October! Something about Autumn, I think, is especially appealing to literary folk. C’mon: some adventurous novels, blue skies, chilly air?

OR

Dark, rainy nights, pumpkin spice candles, and a glass of Merlot served alongside mysterious and chilling tales?

You guys know what I’m talking about.

‘Tis the reading season. 

Recently, I comprised a list of autumn reads for teens for Hip Homeschool moms.

(You can read that one on their Website, here.)

When I shared the list with a friend, she asked me what my autumn book list would be for adults. While all of the classics from my teen list would remain, there are also some fall-ish novels that I love but wouldn’t feel comfortable openly recommending for YA readers.  Then, of course, there are the books that I have yet to read, but which are on my personal to-read list for this autumn!

So, without further do, here’s my list of 20 Atmospheric Autumn Reads for Adults.

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Autumn Classics (These are for Pretty Much Everyone.)

1.Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- a unique heroine,  a mansion with a dark secret, the test of love between two passionate souls, and a touch of magical realism that seems unique to the setting of North England. Jane Eyre is of my favorites anytime, but especially in fall and winter.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– Those Bronte sisters really knew how to        weave together the feelings of a conflicted heart alongside the mystery of the English moors.  Oh, Heathcliff—in high school I loved you, and as an adult I love to hate you. I still read about you and Cathy every year, though; your tortured and unhealthy relationship is undeniably haunting.

3.  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier–  Again with that Cornish setting. But can anyone argue that the misty moors and the roar of the cold English ocean is just plain exciting and mysterious and lends itself so completely to thrilling and slightly spooky stories like Du Maurier’s Rebecca?  Okay, no arguments? Good.

4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith- An uber cozy 1930s account of an English girl who aspires to be a writer and chronicles the eccentric characters and happenings around her. Yes, I know–another British one. *Anglophile alert*

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Hey, it’s an actual American novel (Arguably one of THE American novels.) Gatsby is another favorite novel of mine anytime of the year, and it’s arguably a perfect summer OR autumn read. The thrilling roar of summertime and its dreams takes up most of the book’s premise, but the momentum leads to the fateful first fall of the leaves…the end of summer and its illusions (and delusions).

Autumn YA Novels that Adults Will Enjoy Too

(Because Adults Actually Read Just as Many YA Novels As Teens Do)

6. Shiver (and Wolves of Mercy Falls Series) by Maggie Stiefvater –Not just another paranormal werewolf romance story. This New York Times Bestselling Author totally gets the raw emotions of first love. It’s a sweet and beautifully melancholy story.

7. The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare- You know that metallic, green book you’ve seen at Target with the washboard bare torso of a young guy on the cover? Yes, I’m actually putting that book (and the rest of the series) on my list as  guilty pleasure-reads for autumn. I’m not sure who was in charge of marketing/cover layouts, but The Mortal Instruments is only slightly about dudes with abs. It’s a fun supernatural series with lots of action and witty banter: a fun series for some bathtub reading on a chilly day.

8. Wintersong by S. Jae. Jones- Labyrinth meets Phantom of the Opera! I actually reviewed this one here. It’s a dark fairy-tale that fantasy lovers will gobble up.

9. The Diviners by Libba Bray- I’m actually reading this one right now: 1920s Manhattan, mysterious murders, a plucky flapper heroine, supernatural bumps in the night. Libba Bray is a great writer, and this book is actually pretty darn creepy for a YA novel. The characters are very teenager-ly…but the story is pretty adult (kind of like her Gemma Doyle series).

10. Warm Bodies by Issac Marion- Just your typical little post-apocalyptic  love story/comedy/commentary on human nature (narrated by a Zombie.) Whatever.

11. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R King – While not technically written for a Young Adult audience, this story is definitely appealing/appropriate for teens or adults. It’s a super cozy and engaging introduction to King’s Beekeeper series, which follows a retired Sherlock Holmes and the bright, young woman who becomes his assistant.

12. THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by J. K. Rowling- If you haven’t read Harry Potter then you should. It’s okay to re-read it whenever you want, especially in fall. That’s all I have to say about that.

Not Your Kiddo’s Halloween Booklist (I think the category speaks for itself)

12. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman- A lyrically written account of two magical sisters facing down a family curse and a dead guy in the backyard.  Different from the movie (though I like both).

13. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon- Sweeping and kind of steamy historical/romance/adventure/quasi-fantasy that you’ve all probably heard of (because, you know, Starz). Because there’s some rough stuff in it, I don’t recommend Outlander to everyone, even though I personally have enjoyed what I’ve read of the series. The first books starts out with Clare stepping through standing stones in the Highlands during the feast of Samhain (Gaelic Halloween), which is one of the things that makes the first novel of this series a great October read.

14. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman– A profound, weird, creepy, adult collection of fantastical short stories. A dash of spooky and a dollop of thoughtfulness.

15. Dead Before Dawn (A Sookie Stackhouse novel) Charlaine Harris- A Cajun-infused chick-lit romance/ blood-and-gore/ mystery/ vampire novel. A little bit of a guilty pleasure but super fun (and amazingly successful given the amount of genre crossover).

16. Interview with the Vampire by Ann Rice- Arguably the most iconic vampire novel since Dracula. It’s fascinating and dark and compelling.

Books on my To-Read List This Season

17. Dracula by Bram Stoker- (I realize that it’s crazy that I’ve never read this).

18. Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman-this prequel to Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic  just came out! Pre-ordered on Kindle and can’t wait to read it!

19. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke– I started this beautifully cozy, slightly creepy,  historical fantasy last fall and somehow fell out of reading it.

20. Something by Stephen KingWhat’s a great first read by Stephen King???

(Guys, don’t kill me for having never read Stephen King). 

There are so many books springing to mind now that I’m calling this list “done.” However, 20 seems like a good place for me to stop…for now. How about you? What are some books that scream autumnal, Halloweenish mystery to you?

I look forward to hearing about them!

-Katie

 

AMWAP Book Review: Here on Earth

*Note: What is an AMWAP review? It’s a thing I made up. It stands for “As Many Words as Pages.” My AMWAP book reviews are uniquely crafted towards a specific word count. It’s my little way of keeping things snappy and driving myself slowly insane.For instance…The following book review is 309 words long.

Here on Earth

Pages: 309

Last night I finished reading Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth (1997).  In case you are unacquainted with her, Hoffman’s got this raw-but-lyrical quality that leaves you feeling like you’ve been emotionally stripped bare at some kind of intervention, but that (somehow) you were thoroughly enchanted by the entire experience. It’s fitting that she often writes about magic, because her stories are spellbinding.

Recently, Here on Earth caught my eye. I read a New York Times Book Review that called it, “a Wuthering Heights . . . profound.”  Sadistic though it may be, I’ve always loved Emily Bronte’s twisted love story and the way it makes prickle with goosebumps of anger, passion, and regret.

And that’s pretty much the exact same effect of Hoffman’s Here on Earth.

5159The story successfully carries the haunting themes of Wuthering Heights into a setting of 1990s America as it follows the return of March Murray to her small hometown.  When March re-encounters Hollis, the childhood love she never let go of, the passionate bond between them grows.  As their relationship illuminates the ghosts of their common past, it also begins to cast a destructive shadow over their lives.  Despite the absence of Bronte’s moors, the rural Massachusetts setting of Here on Earth carries a ghostly mystique of its own.

Though I openly recommended this book to everyone while still in its early chapters, I would be more selective in my recommendations having finished it.  Literary triumph? Definitely.  Disturbing? Definitely.  Just don’t tell your teenager to read this alongside Wuthering Heights, okay?

Overall, Here on Earth is a choice autumnal read for those who know what they are in for:  a dark and compelling re-imagining.  It poses some pretty interesting questions about romantic possession, redemption, revenge and what might have happened if Catherine and Heathcliff had gotten a chance to be together, “here on earth.”