three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-The Story SistersAlice Hoffman has written more than 20 novels in her 30-year career, as well as books for young adults and children, often combining magical realism, fantasy, and historical fiction.

The Story: As a child, Elv Story captivated her younger sisters Meg and Claire with tales of Arnelle, an imaginary world from which they were allegedly kidnapped. The three soon began communicating in Arnish, a secret language that only they could understand. Now 15, 14, and 12, respectively, the sisters are growing into ethereally lovely young women, though Elv still wields considerable power over the other two. When, at Elv's instigation, they wander away from a party at New York City's Plaza Hotel and try to liberate a carriage horse in Central Park, the eldest sister sets in motion a self-destructive downward spiral that threatens to consume her whole family.

Shaye Areheart. 336 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780307393869

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The Story Sisters ... is, like its predecessors, an intoxicating blend of cloud-cavorting magic and down-to-earth reality. ... The novel is whimsical and heartbreaking." Julia Keller

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The last act grows a bit histrionic and narrative strands are over-tangled, then too neatly tied up, but Hoffman's writing is so lovely and her female characters so appealing that it almost doesn't matter. In the end, The Story Sisters, for all its magic realism, is about a family navigating through motherhood, sisterhood, daughterhood. It's Little Women on mushrooms." Chelsea Cain

Columbus Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Hoffman has a gift for entwining these two parallel worlds-the mythic and the 'real'-without diluting the flavor of either. ... Hoffman's men are seldom as well-developed as her women, and that's true here, as well: They're as one-dimensional as the girls and women are complicated." Margaret Quamme

Kansas City Star 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Just when it seems the narrative cannot support more page-flipping tragedy, the author loosens her grip and lets in a little light. ... Readers who persevere will reap the payoff of earned, throat-tugging emotion." Jeffrey Ann Goudie

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Hoffman] positively relishes torturing her enchanting, ethereal creations. ... Darkly mixing the mundane and horrible with the glorious and transcendent, Hoffman allows the Story sisters to find a measure of redemption, but it is slow and a long time coming." Tammar Stein

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"The Story Sisters, actually, is ... excessive and over-determined but ultimately so moving that it overwhelms these faults. ... This radiant finale reminds us what a satisfying novelist Alice Hoffman can be, when she feels like it." Wendy Smith

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"Its vision, characters, and even the prose seem tired. ... Admittedly, there are some wonderful passages as the book winds to a close-about the heirloom tomatoes Annie grew in her garden and how Claire learns to design jewelry. But, in the end, The Story Sisters seems too coy, too contrived." Roberta Silman

Critical Summary

Critics were generally pleased with Hoffman's latest novel, and fans will be happy that it follows the pattern of her much-loved earlier work with its vibrant characters and magical-realist elements. Though a few reviewers questioned some of her character choices and their actions, such as Elv's mother's strange passivity during the growing crisis, the Kansas City Star deemed it normal for parents to be "frozen in the face of rampant rule-breaking." Other complaints consisted of a slow plot and some melodramatic scenes, but only the Boston Globe denounced the book as completely unoriginal while still praising Hoffman's lovely prose. A moving exploration of the strengths and limitations of family bonds, The Story Sisters is quintessential, if somewhat darker, Hoffman.

Also by the Author

Illumination Night (1987): Praised as one of Hoffman's best books, this haunting and mystical novel follows the troubled relationship of an antique-motorcycle repairman and his agoraphobic wife as they raise their abnormally small son on Martha's Vineyard.