By November 9, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

The Story Sisters

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel by Alice Hoffman.  Recently I picked up The Story Sisters, which she published last year, and I read it with great pleasure.  As I plunged into the book, I was quickly reminded what a wonderful storyteller she is. 

I can’t say enough about the beauty of the language in this book.  At times it literally took my breath away.  Hoffman has a special gift for describing settings, which are so important to this story — whether they be New York, Paris, or rural New England.  She is also adept at creating believable characters; even minor ones are so tenderly etched, they reside forever within a reader’s memory.

The Story Sisters is about three troubled girls, Elv, Meg, and Claire, and their increasingly desperate mother, Annie.  Terrible things happen to this family, and it breaks your heart to read about them.  But their tale is so compellingly told, you have to keep going.  I liked the way that Hoffman explored how victims can retreat into a fantasy world in order to survive, and she uses fantasy as a motif to decorate her storytelling in a wondrous and enchanting way.  Critics have called this her special brand of magical realism, and it certainly has a magical effect on the reader.

Elv is at the center of the story, and she is an unusual character in that she is at once abused and an abuser, and some readers may find her too difficult to like.  But I was transfixed by her journey and the stunning impact it has on her sisters and her mother.  The relationships among these four women are so well drawn.  It’s a powerful experience to observe the ways their bonds are developed and then shattered.

Elv, the oldest girl, is taken by a child molester when she offers herself to save her younger sister, Claire.  Later, she escapes, but is forever marked by this horrifying experience.  She descends into a realm of fantasy, which she shares with her sisters, but ultimately becomes a raging delinquent who baffles her siblings and her mother, a struggling divorcee.  In some respects, the novel is a family saga, and it also echoes somber tales like Mystic River and What the Dead Know with their dramatic themes of child abuse.  Those also happen to be books I particularly liked.

I checked reader reactions to this book on Amazon and found that some people regarded it as “too melodramatic” or “depressing,” but it didn’t affect me that way.  I’d be interested to know if  any Book Group Buzz readers have used The Story Sisters in a discussion.  With its stark themes and lush prose, I think it would make a great choice.

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About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

1 Comment on "The Story Sisters"

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  1. c.beumer@gmail.com' christina says:

    I read this book last year (or perhaps the beginning of this year?) and really enjoyed it. I loved the invented world and language that the sisters created growing up and really felt that helped me understand and empathize with Elv.

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