Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman

Nora Silk doesn’t really fit in on Hemlock Street, where every house looks the same. She's divorced. She wears a charm bracelet and high heels and red toreador pants. And the way she raises her kids is a scandal. But as time passes, the neighbors start having second thoughts about Nora. The women’s apprehension evolves into admiration. The men’s lust evolves into awe. The children are drawn to her in ways they can't explain. And everyone on this little street in 1959 Long Island seems to sense the possibilities and perils of a different kind of future when they look at Nora Silk...This extraordinary novel by the author of The River King and Local Girls takes us back to a time when the exotic both terrified and intrigued us, and despite our most desperate attempts, our passions and secrets remained as stubbornly alive as the weeds in our well-trimmed lawns.
Goodreads description 

A major event in the magic realism fans' calendar is when another book by Alice Hoffman, the queen of contemporary American magic realism, goes on sale. In September there was an enormous event - Hoffman's first eight books were published by Open Road Media as ebooks. As well as this book (Seventh Heaven) the following are now available for download: At Risk, Property Of, Fortune's Daughter, Illumination Night, The Drowning Season, White Horses, and Angel Landing

I have previously reviewed two of Hoffman's novels here: The Story Sisters and her most recent the acclaimed The Museum of Extraordinary Things. It was fascinating to go back to her early work. Seventh Heaven was first published in 1990 but it shows all the signs of what we have come to expect from a Hoffman novel: complex characters, especially well-drawn young women, and  magic slipped into the ordinary world. 

Hoffman's story is set in 1959 American suburbia, on the type of estate described by Pete Seeger in his song Little Boxes -

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes
Little boxes
Little boxes all the same. 

This is an America where conformity is everything and into it comes a young divorcee, her mind-reading son and small baby. Nora's being divorced is in itself a challenge to the myth of happy ever-after that underpins the lives of the inhabitants of the estate. Through the course of the book Hoffman peels the mask off the families to reveal the truth beneath as they are forced to face the reality of their lives and aspirations. 

There are some writers (including some I have recently reviewed) whose magic realism is also happy-ever-after, avoiding the uglier sides of life and using magic as a sweetener. Hoffman is not one of those. She tackles difficult subjects. As is the case in her other books the issue of the treatment of women is at the heart of the novel. But she does this with a lightness of touch, a sense of humour and subtle magic that illuminates the world. 

I recommend this book.

Open Road Media have created an exclusive interview with Alice Hoffman, which reveals her thinking about writing, symbolism and fairytales, here:

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair review.

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