The Probable Future (Ballantine Reader's Circle)

The Probable Future - Alice Hoffman I really liked this story that weaves so much together. It's about three generations of Sparrow women, Elinor, her estranged daughter Jenny and her daughter Stella, who as the novel opens celebrates her thirteenth birthday. On that day, as it's been for 13 generations, the women of the family gain a gift and a burden. Elinor can smell lies--literally. Jenny can dream the dreams of others. Stella has a much more ominous gift--she can see others' deaths. This isn't quite fantasy. It's closer to what might be called magical realism, where everyday, real life is infused with magic. It's a genre I'm not always in tune with. I hated the Isabelle Allende novel I tried. There the magical aspects seemed to me affected and intrusive, as if she was saying "Hi! I can speak Borges!" Hoffman writes as if magic is her native language. And I find it woven not just in the fantastical but even in her use of scientific fact, such as telling us that "a cloud is a floating lake." Or close observation of nature from an oak tree to roses to bees. It's the characters that really make it special. And not just the three women--but minor characters such as Liz Hull or Juliet Aronson. And not just in what endears, but the flaws of so many of the characters, Jenny's tendency to run away, Will's fecklessness and Matt's tendency to drift--for me anyway--often hit close to home. As do the mother/daughter relationships in this story. The town of Unity, Massachusetts is a major character too, with it's own history and redemptive arc. Even a dog, Elinor's wolfhound Argus, is lovingly drawn. Mind you, even as far as half-way, I wasn't too impressed. Oh, the prose draws you in and is strong from the beginning. Hoffman weaves a masterful omniscient narrative with lyrical, even poetic prose. My problem was that this is my second Hoffman novel. My first was Practical Magic, which I did love. But it also dealt with an old Massachusetts family of strong woman dealing with a powerful history--women of magical powers long reputed in their small town as witches. I thought, man do all her novels tell the same story? By two-thirds through I didn't care much, The way it pulled together past and future, love and death was powerful (even if at times predictable)--and the end was both suspenseful and moving and more than once I felt a lump at my throat. Did things fall together a bit too neatly? Maybe. But reading this book was definitely good for the heart.