NESFA Members' Reviews

The Probable Future

by Alice Hoffman

Ballantine, 2004 [2003], ISBN 0-345-45591-6

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

The Sparrows are a family of women who've lived in a small Massachusetts town since colonial times, their lives enlivened by a magical gift (different for each of them) that first manifests itself on their thirteenth birthdays. As is often the case with magic, the term "gift" is applied here fairly loosely. In the present day, Elinor always knows a lie, her daughter Jenny experiences other people's dreams, and granddaughter Stella, just turned thirteen, has developed the ability to see how people will die. The relationship-wrecking potential of the first two gifts is of course blindingly obvious, and the third would be a heavy burden for anyone to bear—especially a thirteen-year-old who's not speaking to the mother who's screwing up their relationship by trying to avoid all of her mother's mistakes.

These are well-drawn characters who often inspire, simultaneously, the desire to give them tea and crackers and the desire to knock their heads together. Jenny is completely justified and utterly wrong-headed in her resentment of her mother; so is Stella. Jenny is absolutely correct in having concluded, after having it pounded into her head repeatedly, that Stella's father, Will Avery, is a lying, cheating bastard who can be relied on only to let everyone down. Stella is also right in believing him to be a loving, devoted parent who actually listens to her, which her mother does not.

There is a plot in here, involving Stella's gift of seeing deaths accidentally landing Will in jail, charged with murder, but the plot is not the point. The focus of this book is the engaging, and ultimately optimistic, story of the tangled relationships of the Sparrow women and their friends and relations.

An enjoyable lazy-afternoon read.

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