Published by Putnam Adult, 1995
Hardcover, 244 pages
Genres: adult fiction, chick lit, contemporary fiction, fantasy, magic, magical realism, paranormal, romance, women's fiction
Synopsis (via Goodreads): For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. And Gillian and Sally endured that fate as well; as children, the sisters were outsiders. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, but all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One would do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they shared brought them back-almost as if by magic...
My review: I got acquainted with Alice Hoffman early this year when I read her newest novel The Dovekeepers (which is fabulous). For some reason I was thinking it was her debut novel (don't ask me where I picked that up from, ha) so I was surprised when I looked her up on Goodreads and discovered she has been an established author for quite a long time. I have heard good things about the movie adaptation of Practical Magic and decided I would watch it... but only after reading the novel. School started so I finally got around to it last week, finishing it on Labor Day. I greatly enjoyed it and plan to continue reading everything by Alice Hoffman I can get my hands on. The story is much better than the synopsis above makes it sound and well worth the short amount of time it takes to read.
Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned when they are ages five and three and taken in by two aunts who have a local reputation for witchery and spells, usually of the love variety. The little girls grow up knowing they're different, the other children at school and their parents making sure they never forget. The older the sisters get, though, the more they understand the magic their aunts wield is not imagined or exaggerated: it is very real and powerful. While the girls become used to the stream of women finding their way to the aunts' back door every evening in hopes of obtaining a cure for their less-than-satisfactory love lives, they are disturbed by it all the same. Gillian in particular, who during high school becomes a beauty and heart-breaker, is dissatisfied with what their guardians have to offer and takes solace in romance and rebellion. Sally is much more prudent and less selfish than her younger sister and eventually finds love with a young local. Bad choices and tragedy break the family apart, though, eventually reuniting them once again many years later.
The story is quite involved with many characters coming and going, though instead of confusing the plot this simply adds dimension to it. Sally and Gillian evolve throughout the novel, making promises and breaking them; alternately turning into the people they said they'd never be and striving towards who they need to be; having dreams and becoming disillusioned and yet against all odds finding hope once again. These experiences are common to every person and make the characters very easy to relate to and empathize with. This book also stirs up complex emotions because just like in real life, you can love someone, identify with them, and still want to smack them silly. Practical Magic has excellent pacing and development: you thoroughly get to know the characters and the lives they lead without getting tired of them. My only complaint is a minor one and it would be that closer to the end of the book Gillian's bedroom experiences with her boyfriend Ben are described, and it got a little cheesy. Okay, it was really cheesy. But just keep reading, don't dwell on it and you'll find this book to be extremely enjoyable and meaningful.
While this book has mainly female protagonists and is frequently labeled chick-lit, I think it is a book any adult could enjoy, especially if they already have a fondness for magical realism and contemporary fiction. It is not lengthy either, so a great deal of patience is not necessary. I'd love to hear your thoughts regarding Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman, the chick-lit label, and/or how the movie adaptation compares to the novel, as I haven't gotten around to watching it yet.