The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
If you’re not familiar with Alice Hoffman, it’s time to rectify that. And please don’t judge her based on the film adaptation of Practical Magic, because as chicky and fun as that movie was, it felt like a huge divergence from what had been put on the page...and as such, the movie was lacking.
Her latest novel is so enticing and haunting that I could barely put it down. It surrounds the lives of three sisters, Elv, Meg, and Claire Story, from their early teen years into adulthood. Some of Hoffman’s recurring themes pop up yet again as welcome as old friends. Their mother has a garden in which they spend a lot of their time, they talk about the color of the light and the scents on the air and each other...they are tuned in to what gets lost too often during a busy adult life.
Elv, the oldest, has created a fantasy world that the girls live in for a while. It sprung up suddenly and out of nowhere on what Elv and Claire refer to as “The Bad Day” - a day that Meg was thankfully absent from, but which defined all of their lives nonetheless. They all grow up in its shadow (even Meg and their mother, from whom Elv and Claire keep the day a secret) and it effects each in her own way. Elv becomes more reckless and frantic, Claire blames herself and turns inward, Meg feels more and more alienated until ultimately she can no longer relate to either of her sisters. Their mother watches helplessly as her girls grow up and away - because she does not know what happened, she cannot begin to help them heal.
Details unfold as new friends and boyfriends enter their lives through the stories they tell each other. Stories that are interlaced with magic (dresses made by hand that glow with moonlight, fairies, demons) and superstition. Generations of women come together to help the girls find their way, bringing with them their own superstitions and intentions.
I read this in the course of a few days and noticed as my perception changed: at first Elv was remarkable and untouchable, Claire was delicate, and Meg was certain to be the voice of reason who snapped them all out of it. But, as happens too often in real life, things spiral out of control and the unexpected becomes routine. By the end I found myself wondering what would happen had I been their mother: would I have known instinctually that very evening that a life altering Bad Day had occurred? Would I know what to do if the lives of my children splintered in a way I’d never imagined? Would I be able - as their mother is - to ask for help? I would venture to say that those who have watched someone unravel will find this book resonating more than those who do not have that experience to draw on. Either way, it’s a book that you can open up and fall into. Hoffman creates worlds we’d all like to walk through now and then, and The Story Sisters is no exception.