Alice Hoffman,
The Probable Future
(Doubleday, 2003)

Alice Hoffman introduces magical themes into her novel The Probable Future.

Stella Sparrow Avery descends from a long line of Sparrow women, each of whom awoke with a gift on her 13th birthday. For one, the gift was the ability to run faster than anyone; another could stay underwater for 20 minutes at a time. The first, Rebecca, felt no pain, and yet another was a skilled midwife.

Stella's grandmother Elinor can tell when someone is lying, and Stella's mother Jenny dreams other people's dreams. Stella wakes up on her 13th birthday with a disturbing ability to see how people are going to die. When she shares information about a potential murder victim with her father, Will, her actions inadvertently make her father a murder suspect.

When it becomes clear that Stella cannot stay in Boston, she is sent to Elinor, from whom Jenny has been estranged for years. It is in the small New England village of Unity that Stella begins to come to terms with her gift as she opens her heart to the people she meets. Here, she encounters not only the people and places of her immediate past, but also the family history that has inevitably shaped her life.

Jenny also returns to Unity after Will, now her ex-husband, is instrumental in her losing her job. Then, when Will's carelessness endangers Stella, he also returns to the same hometown. Both Jenny and Will have their own "ghosts" to face as well as reconciliation with Will's brother, Matt.

The entire novel is about reconciliation and forgiveness, about the need to forgive each other, forgive oneself and forgive past wrongs that have been carried down through generations. It is also about the transforming power of love. Hoffman contains her themes within an intricate story that flows as smoothly as honey. Careful readers will note the images that weave their way through the narrative, delicately highlighting the story.

The characters are well-depicted and realistic, although I had a little trouble believing in Stella as a 13-year-old. She came across as being older, and while she has much in her life to inspire anger, her harshness seems disproportionate. She becomes a much more compelling character once she arrives in Unity and has to adapt to her circumstances more.

Hoffman reduces life into the essential cycles of birth, life and death, not only in human terms but also regarding the cycles of nature. She emphasizes that magic and myth can be more easily found in the slower life of a village through a story that is easily one of her best.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 31 January 2004

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