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.