Title: The Story Sisters
Written by Alice Hoffman
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books (June 2, 2009)
Reading Level: Typical Alice Hoffman magical realism, more in the adult vein
Rated: 2.5/5 which means I liked it okay
Dear Ms. Hoffman, Hi there. I hope you are not reading this. Let me assure you, I am a NOBODY. I haven’t written anything (well, I haven’t published anything). I do have a degree in English, but it‘s from a small university, nowhere of note. I am just a lowly nobody who is not worthy of your attention. Okaythanksbye! ~ Heather
So, in case you can’t tell from my missive to Ms. Hoffman, I was not a big fan of The Story Sisters.
The Story Sisters follows the lives of three sisters, Elv, Megan, and Claire Story, and their mother Annie. When the girls were very young, Elv created a whole other world for them to live in. She created a whole history, a language, and a code by which to live. But when Elv has to do the unthinkable to protect Claire; she spirals out of control into years of drug addiction, rebellion and self-destructive behavior. Tragedy and misfortune haunt the family for years and years, until it becomes almost too much to bear. Elv is committed to a rehab center by her parents, a simple spring drive through the country turns deadly, a fatal illness claims a loved one and there is betrayal after betrayal. When the last bit of the novel turns to Claire; a girl so damaged by the family’s terrible hardships that she won’t even speak, to anyone, the small glimmer of hope and goodness that comes with her story is almost too little too late.
The unrelenting sadness and calamity of the Story sisters lives were the main part of my problem with this book. It was like a bad soap opera; just when things start to look up, someone dies, someone gets sick, someone goes to jail, death, sickness, jail, death, sickness…you get the idea. It was just one bad, horrible, terrible thing after another. It came to the point where a new character was introduced and I wondered when he would die.
Hoffman’s prose is just as lovely as ever, as are the lovely bits of magical realism she throws in, but it’s just not enough this time. One of the few bright spots were the girls’ grandmother who lives in Paris, and her friend Madam Cohen, who come together to help save Claire. If only they could have saved them all! The Story Sisters simply outlive their welcome about halfway through the book and I was so disappointed because the premise sounded so good. And I love Alice Hoffman’s writing so much.
One other quibble; I didn’t like feeling left hanging at the end. And at this, I give a SPOILER ALERT because I just have to get this OFF MY CHEST. Drag your mouse across to read this.
At this point, Elv has been estranged from her family for years. Claire is getting married and invites her sister and her niece. Here it is; a beautiful opportunity, the chance to see these two sisters reconcile, to have some freaking HEALING here and what happens? We don’t even get to see the sisters talk. They approach each other, they see each other, it’s about to happen, they are RIGHT THERE…and Hoffman cuts to grandmother and Madam Cohen. To which I said WTF and threw the book out of the tub. Really. I did.
This was another co-read with Kailana of The Written Word, who liked it better than I did. Here is her review and here are a few questions she had for me.
1. How does this book compare to other Hoffman novels? Would you recommend this one or are there others you would recommend first?
I think you should read it. If you love Alice Hoffman, magical realism, or are just curious about the book. Give it a fair shot; you may like it more than I did. It could have been a mood thing with me, or my violent reaction to Elv. It could have been timing. But definitely give it a read. It did have its good parts. I recommend Blackbird House (LOVED IT), The Probable Future, Practical Magic, and her YA novels Aquamarine and Incantation. They are fantastic.
2. During our conversation while you were reading this book, you mentioned that you didn’t like Elv. What were your complaints with her? Did your opinion change by the end?
She was the biggest, shallowest, most self-centered character I’ve ever seen. She didn’t care about anyone or anything, other than herself and her horrible liar of a boyfriend. I’m sure Hoffman is trying to show the perils of drug-use and sexual abuse, but wow, she was one piece of work. I admit though, later in the book, she did manage to redeem herself slightly. I obviously can’t say why, it’s too big of a spoiler, but yes, by the end my opinion did change.
3. Do you feel that the use of magical realism enhanced the story? In what way?
I think magical realism should enhance the story, give and not take away. I’m not so sure that the magical realism here really added anything. Sure, we have Elv’s fairy tales that she spins for her sisters, but there is no evidence that the world she constructs is in any way real. The first mention of something tangible, something real, is at the end, where it comes off as an afterthought. It was surprising to me, since Hoffman is one of the masters of magical realism, and yet another disappointment.
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