Faithful by Alice Hoffman – Book

I’m still reading Alice Hoffman’s books, even after all these years and it is not a difficult task to be a loyal fan because her writing is always pretty flawless. Of course not every book has been a favorite; there are some tales I have liked better than others, and there are still books that really hit the literary spot for me. Faithful is almost in that sweet spot. It a very good book, just not one I would put on her top shelf.  It has a beautiful blue cover and it contains lots of blue imagery, but it seems to lead to nothing more than a very blue mood, or perhaps the ink tattoo artists use.

We begin with two high school beauties, one slightly prettier than the other, with all the confidence and arrogance their looks endow them with. These two are a powerful presence in their school. Almost everyone is either in love with them or envies them. Then life happens. One beauty ends up in a coma in her childhood bedroom with the rose wallpaper. That’s Helene Boyd. The other Shelby Richmond, stops her life to do penance for still being alive. She shaves her head, once adorned with long stylish hair. She wears black clothing. She cuts herself. She slits her wrists. She ends up in a Psych ward where she is raped routinely by an orderly until her mother finds out and takes her home. Helene, it is rumored, can make miracles happen. Shelby can barely survive from day to day.

Someone is looking over Shelby though. Postcards arrive for her in the mail with interesting drawings and messages perhaps from an angel or a savior, or maybe somehow from Helene. They bear cryptic messages such as, “Say something”, “Do something”, “Be someone”.  Shelby keeps them in a box with a blue velvet lining. Who will save her? Will anyone save her? That I cannot tell.

This is not rocket science. It is not the great American novel. It doesn’t employ deep symbolism or leave you in a literary trance. Still it portrays the depths of grief a human soul can plumb and it shows that the way out is a function of time and positive social interactions until one day hope becomes stronger than grief and the two strike a bargain that allows life to offer some sweetness once again. Faithful is a story of our times and one that young adults would find very relevant indeed.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman – Book

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Alice Hoffman does not usually write about people who were
real, nor does she use the style of “magical realism but her newest book The Marriage of Opposites is set in the
perfect environment to show off her mystical talents which drew me to her in
her earliest book Illumination Night.
I kept thinking that Isabel Allende, who is just about the Queen of Magical
Realism, wrote this book and this story of the woman who became the mother of
the artist Camille Pissarro and of the island of St. Thomas. But this time it
was Alice Hoffman who mastered this style which thrives best in the tropics,
and the setting on that sparsely settled island of St. Thomas in the 1800’s allows
her to cook the magic right into the people, the history, and eventually into
the paintings Pissarro produced.

How a Jewish community ended up in the tropics is a tale of
the old world and the new. Religious persecution in France led Jews to look for
safety. When the Danes, who owned St. Thomas, promised to allow Jewish people
safety and freedom to worship as they pleased, some Jewish people settled
there. Here is the first “marriage of opposites” in Hoffman’s book. The very
climate of St. Thomas, the heat, the flowers, the winds from Africa, the
molasses and the rum were at sensual war with the socially uptight European
culture and the religious strictures that the Jews from Europe brought with
them. Young people, on a small island with few inhabitants were expected to
live according to strict 19th century codes while as children they
had been allowed the freedom to play with non-European children and to roam the
island. Once mature they were expected, indeed commanded, to live by the rules,
girls especially. Rachel Pomié was spoiled by her father who educated her in
several languages including the language of mathematics and accounting. She,
even in the face of her mother’s disapproval, roamed St.Thomas with the cook
Adelle’s daughter Jestine.

Rachel writes down some of the tales of the island which tell
us of stairs constructed to confound werewolves and leaves that fall in
people’s hair, leaves which are the souls of the dead people we knew and loved.
Rachel marries, as all 19th century daughters must. She marries
Issac, a man who had eight children and lost his first wife. She does not love
him but a psychic has promised her that another man will come along who will be
her love. Rachel and Jestine dream of going to live in Paris. The man,
Frederick, who will be Camille Pissarro’s father arrives in St. Thomas on a
ship from that French city one day after Rachel has been widowed. He sees
Rachel and immediately, but not conveniently, falls in love with her. They
dream together of the green rain when they sleep at night.

This book has plenty of both magic and realism. You will be
immersed in a world of color – red, haint blue, lavender, pink, green, grey,
and an entire palette of opposites – the strong colors of tropical splendor
and the cooler colors of a temperate climate with a Parisian ambience. Alice
Hoffman your book was enchanting.

 

By Nancy Brisson

 

book, The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman, novel