Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Place Alice Hoffman Creates

Welcome to the Alice Hoffman Birthday Blog Hop! Today, March 16, 2013, I'm thrilled to be celebrating Alice Hoffman's birthday with other readers who love her unique and inimitable voice. Please visit all the sites linked at the bottom of this post for the complete experience!

I intended to write this post on Claire Story of The Story Sisters, having recently read the book for the second time. The first time I read it I fell in love with Elv. Her fierce love of horses, her inability to reduce her sensitivities to socially acceptable levels, her sacrifice of self to protect her youngest sister, along with her ability to see fairies and demons, kept me glued to every page. And when her life took an unexpected twist I sat in my papasan chair and sobbed. Not the dainty, a few hot tears rolling down my cheeks, sniffles, no, it was the snorting, messy kind that you never want another human being to witness, but feels so cleansing when it’s over.

Brave, reckless Elv. I resurrected a pair of black leather cowboy boots with pointy toes and got another tattoo, a daisy fairy on my left hip.

But after the second read, I’m on the lookout for charms.

Because this time, I'm enthralled with Claire. She’s the one who was strong enough to love both her sisters. Which brings me to another thing I love about The Story Sisters, it’s unflinching when it comes to the girl’s complex relationships. I have a friend who is an only child and doesn’t get how beastly sisters can be to one another.

I have sisters. Our relationships are strained and complicated, too. Perhaps that’s why these words in Arnish—spoken at dusk—can bring tears to my eyes: Nom brava gig. My brave sister. Reunina lee. I came to rescue you. Alana me sora minta. Roses wherever you looked.

My sisters are velvety petals with thorns, too.

Claire won me over with her silence. And her rebirth. Learning to make jewelry, mastering the craft. No matter how conventional wisdom goes on and on about family and friends, sometimes soulful work is the only thing that keeps some of us alive.

So that was my plan for this first Alice Hoffman Birthday Blog Hop, gush about Claire Story and Arnish, maybe Pollo—and Pete who wraps all the broken Story women in bandages of strength and dignity while they conjure the will to move forward, but now I’m reading The Red Garden. Quite frankly, I’m a little bit stunned.

It’s a collection of contemporary-ish fairy tales. I’m not a fan of short stories. Perhaps because it seems like a lot of investment, getting to know the characters, the setting, etc. and then—whiff—they’re gone. It’s over. But I read Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez last year, and found it enjoyable and fascinating. Marquez linked his collection of stories around a single place, the fictional town of Macondo, Colombia. When I discovered all the tales in Hoffman’s The Red Garden wind around and through rural Blackwell, Massachusetts, I became curious.

There are fourteen tales. I’ve read seven. The stunned part is how each one builds, externally, the literal place of Blackwell, and internally, the pressure upon the heart of the reader. It all begins with Hallie finding refuge in that bear. And her cub. And then comes John Chapman with his apple seeds and innocent passion. By the time Sophia snatches up the card of death and Amy is buried in her blue dress and bare feet, the magic is palpable. When Emily’s long walk ends in the frenzied creation of a scent-focused garden for Charlie who’s lost his sight, we’re left with a taste of wistful in the mouth and the sense of crushed potpourri in the hand.

Remember Amy and her blue dress? She may be gone, but somehow she manages to save Evan and Mattie when nothing and no one else can. But when Topsy, the elephant, dies, it leaves a gash in your heart. Thank goodness, he gets reborn as a pug whose devotion will make you remember that man is a syllable of woman.

I can’t wait to read The Fisherman’s Wife tonight.

Because in The Red Garden Alice Hoffman has doubled her creation of place.

Since Jess and I decided we wanted to create this blog hop, I’ve been asking myself: What is it about Hoffman’s work that moves me, affects me, wrings me out on such deep levels?

With her stories, Hoffman creates a place for the weary, the wounded, the ravaged, the savaged, the damaged, the self-contained, and the lonely, to take off their hats and coats and rest. Among the world of her characters we’re not too sensitive, we’re not too broken, we’re not too full of sorrow, and we’re not beyond comprehension; we’re one of them.

I think that’s why I have to read an Alice Hoffman book every few months. Sometimes daily life breaks me down, breaks down the things about me that I love about myself; reading Alice Hoffman is getting an IV drip. In her pages, I get to live in a world where I’m not too weird—spinning off an another wavelength—I’m the norm. It’s such solace. It’s so hopeful. It reconnects me to humanity.

And that is a holy thing.

Thank you, Alice.


12 comments:

  1. "With her stories, Hoffman creates a place for the weary, the wounded, the ravaged, the savaged, the damaged, the self-contained, and the lonely, to take off their hats and coats and rest. Among the world of her characters we’re not too sensitive, we’re not too broken, we’re not too full of sorrow, and we’re not beyond comprehension; we’re one of them."

    I love that image and that feeling. I do agree with you, Alice Hoffman's books are so honest that I find myself taking off the different masks worn while facing the eyes of society. And you know what? I have been finding it easier to let go of those same masks. It's safe to be amongst Alice's words. Even when you know they have the strength to break your heart into a thousand different pieces. You know it might be hard to put them back together, but it is so worth it. For that period of time, always too short, that takes you to read the pages of her novels, you can afford being just you, just human.

    "In her pages, I get to live in a world where I’m not too weird—spinning off an another wavelength—I’m the norm. It’s such solace. It’s so hopeful. It reconnects me to humanity."

    It's being home, isn't it?

    Thank you, Heidi. Thank you, not only for your post, but for making this happen.

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    1. Maria, Thank you for kicking off the hop with your post last night. I'm going to be thinking about what you wrote for a long time. And I think you're right, the more I read of Alice Hoffman's books, the easier it is to let go of some of my masks, too. This has been such a rich experience. Thank you for being part of it. We have to keep in touch as we read our way through Alice Hoffman's library:)

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  2. What a beautiful post! You completely nailed it with your description of what Ms. Hoffman's words inspire. At some of my most "now what?" moments, her words have helped me right my own course. I doubt I could ever express enough gratitude.

    The best part of all of it is that my daughter finds the same comfort. Now that's the sign of a brilliant writer! Thank you, Heidi! It felt sort of magical to have found your blog on a day when it would make such a difference to so many!

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    1. Dee Dee! Thank you, and thank you for being part of the hop. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed it. I think it's so amazing that you've been able to share Alice Hoffman with your daughter, how wise of you:) Congratulations on the launch of Is Your Wetsuit Like a Bad Love Affair and Other Essays! The cover is just gorgeous, Heidi

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  3. I'm so glad to hear good things about The Story Sisters, this I have just taken out of the library and I can't wait to get reading it. This is such a great idea so thanks a bunch for making it happen.

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    1. Ruth, Thank you for being part of the hop. I loved you bringing forward Alice Hoffman's bio. It certainly deserved a place here! I hope you love The Story Sisters! I am sooooo looking forward to reading The Dovekeepers after today, Heidi

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  4. Between you and Jess, I think I'm going to have to pick up the Story Sisters as well. Thanks so much for setting this up, Heidi.

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  5. Noree, Thank you for being part of the hop. Your showcase on Practical Magic, the book and the movie, was great. Yes, pick up The Story Sisters, it's one-of-a-kind:) Heidi

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  6. "My sisters are velvety petals with thorns, too."
    Love this, so touching. Thank you for working with me on this, I consider it a huge success! ~Jessica Fortunato

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    1. Jessica, THANK YOU! It really did turn into something incredible! So glad we hung in:) It seems Elv's potent magic was in ethers...

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  7. Heidi--first of all, THANK YOU for making this blog hop happen! I stumbled upon it because I "like" Alice Hoffman on FaceBook, and I saw her post that included your link. I can't help but feel that it was Miss Hoffman's magic at work here--not only did I have the opportunity to share my love for her, but I also found some amazing blogs along the way. This has been amazing!
    And . . . I have three sisters who are "velvety petals with thorns" like yours. Most of the time, they are my best friends, but sometimes . . .
    I am going to read The Story Sisters again this summer--I can't wait!
    I love your blog!!! I am now a faithful follower, looking forward to your next post.

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  8. Cheryl, THANK YOU for being part of it. I so enjoyed your post and am so glad you found us and joined up. There is something so special about Alice Hoffman books, and I was tweeting with Jess about that one day, so we decided to try this. I don't think we realized at the time how special it would become. There was definitely magic in the air! Each post I read was so affirming and what I loved was how others put into words things about Alice Hoffman's works that I couldn't but I felt, too!!! The whole thing left me a little dazed in a very good way. I'm glad you love my blog:) I really enjoy my eating magic posts and I have to admit your compliment left me a little blushing and tongue-tied, but thank you. Your words meant a lot, and I'm so glad we've connected, Heidi!

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