There comes a time when we all must come clean, and so I will do so now – with you. I saw Practical Magic in the theater before I knew it was based upon a book. Even worse? I didn’t read the book until more than a decade after having seen the movie. Not that I stopped watching the movie in the mean time since I LOVE it. Easily one of the few movies I watch whenever I need a bit of hope and a pick me up while still getting a bit of a cry out in some of the more powerful scenes. Even with “Based upon the novel by Alice Hoffman” coming up on the screen I still managed to always forget about picking it up at the bookstore. Well, thanks to a gift card from a friend, and a review by a lovely blogging buddy, I finally picked it up and devoured it.
The story chronicles the lives of two sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens, as they grow up with their aunts who seem to possess a gift of meddling in people’s love lives. For a fee, of course. Sally, on the other hand, is fastidiously proper and has taken over the role of mother hen to all in the house – a reaction seemingly born of her newly orphaned status, while her sister Gillian continuously runs from commitment and love to avoid being left.
It is a tale that takes place over decades. Each young girl grows, makes choices, and moves into adulthood, but it is Sally we mainly follow. Her transitions through girlhood, to wife and mother, then to widow and the escape from her aunts’ home and the childhood taunting she had endured to a home of her own where she raises her daughters alone. A woman gone rigid, who did what was “right” for her children, and who stayed alone is the portrait of Sally we see. There is little of compassion to be had for this character at a certain point. Her world is her children, unhealthily so, and upon them she places her expectations and demands, to carry out what they’re supposed to be doing. And then, like a foreboding breeze, Gillian pulls into the driveway with her dead boyfriend in the car.
Wonderfully, the story evolves into one of relationships, the complexities and difficulties, the battles we have with ourselves in order to protect ourselves or perhaps the opportunity for sane risks to take in pursuit of love. Gillian, Sally, and Sally’s daughters Antionia and Kylie are all three dimensional characters with wants, drives, and evolution while the supporting cast of male characters suffers not at all in the short times we get to know them. It’s a remarkable and wonderful read with bits of magic, ecstasy, trauma, and joy.
The only complaint that I feel necessary to give voice to is the apparent need of Hoffman to use the f-bomb throughout the first 2/3 of the book instead of any other term for sex. As a reader I felt it diminished the act in ways that were wholly inappropriate to character voice in those sections, that it might have been the author herself sneering at the idea of reverent sex. While I do not need, nor do I believe in, each act of sex as qualifying for the term “making love” I do think that the word (brace yourselves) fuck should only be used where applicable, either as a curse or in description of a very particular mode of a physical act. Still, the book was wonderful and very much worth checking out.
Have you read it? Seen the movie? What are your thoughts on the “f” word?