For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in town. [First Sentence]
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Berkley Signature Edition, 1995
Fiction; 286 pgs
It has been ages since I have seen the movie version of the book, Practical Magic, and so I am unable to draw distinct parallels between the two. I still could not get Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman out of my head, however, as I imagined the two sisters, Gillian and Sally.
The sisters were orphaned at a young age when their parents were killed in an accident. They are raised by two rather eccentric aunts. Everyone in town fears the aunts and is quick to lay blame at their door for bad things that happen in town, but when it comes to matters of love, the townsfolk are more than ready to seek their help. The aunts are well known for their magic charms and potions in dealing with love.
Growing up, the two sisters, Gillian and Sally, wanted nothing more than to be normal. They were bullied and teased at school, ostracized because of their family reputation of witchery, and raised without much structure and discipline. Sally, the oldest of the two siblings, was the more responsible one—studious, diligent, and trying to do right. She was the one who made sure the family ate right and kept the house in order. Her sister, Gillian, was more of a free spirit. She was into boys and liked to goof off whenever she could. She was the dreamer in the family, whereas Sally was the practical one.
Both girls wanted to get away from their past and lead as normal of lives as possible. Gillian takes flight in the middle of the night to get married at the age of 18. Sally, however, stays behind and finds love only to be devastated by its loss. She finally has had enough, taking her two daughters and fleeing to New York to start her own life—one not influenced by her aunts or the family history.
The sisters, like all the Owens women, seem to be unlucky in love. Gillian cannot stay in a relationship long and Sally has tuned out that part of her, focusing solely on raising her daughters and trying to be as normal as possible. Things seem to be working out well for Sally until one fateful night when her sister shows up on her doorstep with a burden that will test the sisters’ relationship as well as their own individual spirits.
I fell in love with Alice Hoffman’s writing style when I read The Probable Future a couple of years ago, and I continue to be enamored with it after having read Practical Magic. There is lightness to her writing and yet it is lyrical in style. The characters are easy to relate to and empathize with. I most could identify with Sally, the bookworm of the bunch, perhaps in part because I know what it is like to be the older sister, the responsible one.
The theme of sisterhood and mother/daughter relationships runs throughout the book. Gillian and Sally had a unique relationship with their aunts—they were there for the girls during the worst moments of their lives and yet, as often children do, the girls rebelled against them in their own individual ways. Likewise, Sally’s daughters did the same, but in relation to their mother. Antonia and Kylie’s own relationship with each other, as well as Sally and Gillian’s, was mixed with animosity and sisterly devotion. They were there for each other when it counted most and yet could not shake off the envy and feeling of constant competition with each other.
Love was also a major theme in the book. Each of the Owens women had known the joy of love as well as the bitter side. They managed their feelings in different ways, and yet their longing for love was very similar. The aunts knew of love and loss better than anyone. Gillian and Sally were not sure they would ever find it again. And Kylie and Antonia, Sally’s daughters, were only beginning to learn about love.
As can be expected in a novel written by Alice Hoffman, there are hints of magic weaved throughout the novel. It is never over the top or out of place. Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic is a beautiful and charming story about love and self-discovery. I look forward to reading more by this author.
Rating: (Very Good)