Faithful, Alice Hoffman

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I remember reading one of Alice Hoffman's historical fiction novels (sadly, I don't remember which one), and really liking it. I also remember reading two of Hoffman's other books (sadly, I do remember them) and thinking they were overly sentimental Hallmark-channel worthy stories with no there there. But I couldn't get that first book out of my mind. I had to believe it wasn't just a fluke (though, I love the first Nicholas Sparks novel I read, The Notebook, and I definitely should have stopped there <gag>). I decided to give Hoffman one more try when I read the blurb for Faithful.

Anyone raised Catholic can tell you what a powerful force guilt can be (I hear Jewish mothers also have this concept down to an art form). Faithful explores the consequences of guilt, the ways that it can derail a person's life and completely change who they are. The story revolves around Shelby, whose life was thrown off track by a tragic accident she and her best friend were in as high scholers. Shelby holds herself accountable for the accident, and falls down a rabbit hole of shame and blame and sadness that makes her withdraw from everyone that she knows. When we first encounter her, she has just come out of a mental hospital after a suicide attempt, and is living in her parents' basement, smoking a lot of weed and watching a lot of reality TV. Eventually, her soft-hearted marijuana dealer, Ben, who for some inexplicable reason is actually falling in love with Shelby despite her morose behavior, convinces her to move to NYC with him to start a new life. It is in New York that Shelby begins to heal, and to fnd redemption for the bad things she thinks she's done.

It doesn't happen very often, but Hoffman managed to create a character that I was rooting for even though I didn't much like her. I started to like her more as the novel goes on, and I suppose that might have been the point-as Shelby began to like herself again, she became more likeable to the reader. It may also have something to do with the fact that she actually becomes a fully realized character once she gets to New York, rather than the deep black human-shaped pit of despair she was at the beginning of the novel; rescuing animals, finding human connection, and ultimately finding a way to love herself and accept someone else's love again.

Hoffman is known for magical realism, and there are some elements of it here. Her comatose former-friend is supposed to have healing powers, mysterious postcards appear just when she needs them, and even among the millions of people who live in New York she manages to cross paths with the one person she needs to the most. That last one sort of took it over the edge for me-it felt like one coincidental thing too many. But overall, I found this to be an enjoyable if not earth-shatteringly good read.


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