Alice Hoffman, The Probable Future (2003)

Just a week into 2011 and I already feel behind (accounts season is to blame)! I hate it when a new year opens and I have not finished to review books from the previous year. Experience from several years of blogging tells me that it’s nearly unavoidable. I want to finish these books as quickly as possible, but it would be unfair to finish them “off”!

Litlove put me on the track to Alice Hoffman, but I hadn’t realized that I’d already read something by her: The River King. I think I liked that one as much (or as little) as The River King, that is to say: fair, but not great. Something like a C in US grades perhaps? I liked it, finished it, but not loved it.

Sometimes the mood strikes for a bit of magical realism, and Hoffman does the job, but I remain unconvinced by her characters. It’s not that they aren’t friendly, just that, well, I wouldn’t hang out with any of them.

In the Probable Future, the women in the Sparrow family all have a distinct gift that is revealed to them on their 13th birthday. The grandmother, Elinor, can spot a liar anywhere. The mother, Jenny, can “see” other people’s dreams, and the 13-year-old Stella discovers her ability to see how people will die.

Now, the Sparrow women are all but a close ring of plotting witches. The three generations hardly talk to one another. Jenny has run off from Elinor’s home (a crooked house in a fictional small village of Massachusetts) when she fell in love with her future husband, a liar and a consistently disappointing loser, and fell pregnant with Stella. She is now working in Boston and is separated from her husband, but not ready to reconcile with her own mother. Stella is your typical teenager at odds with her over-protective mother and she’s clearly out to disobey her mother’s instructions not to keep close relations with her father and her grandmother.

Throw into that setting a vague crime plot, countryside landscapes and lots of friends, old flames and teary emotions, and you have a decent book for a rainy afternoon, but don’t expect the moon. For something magical, I’d rather re-read Lolly Willowes anytime.

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2 thoughts on “Alice Hoffman, The Probable Future (2003)

  1. I’ve never been a huge fan of Hoffman, either – I’ve stopped trying to read her books. As much as people rave about them I find them pretty shallow and empty and not satisfying at all. I’d keep an open mind if someone really raved about something of hers but that’s about it!

  2. It’s been years and years and years since I’ve read any Hoffman, and you’ve reminded me why that is. I read several and then just realized that I didn’t feel much of a bond with any of her characters, and there was just something a bit “off” about her particular brand of magical realism (which I love in classic writers of the technique like Garcia Marquez and Allende). I can see I must check out Lolly Willowes.

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