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The Probable Future

September 2nd, 2003 · No Comments

Another reason I won’t be up too late tonight – other than the fact that I am feeling pretty itchy from last night’s bug bites – is that I was up late last night reading The Probable Future . Once again a Seattle Times review caught my eye.

The author, Alice Hoffman, mixed together quite a stew of a plot to start. The story begins with generational, stereotypical, mother – daughter tension, boiling over on the daughter’s thirteenth birthday, in a modern-day dysfunctional family, the parents in the process of divorcing. But add to this mixture a New England small town community with its history, recorded, studied and remembered through three centuries. And as another main ingredient: in this family, for thirteen generations, each daughter on her thirteenth birthday has received a supernatural gift. One could run fast and another did not feel physical pain. One was a healer and had gifts for helping women in childbirth. One could discern lies from truth and another knew what others dreamed. So the adolescent tension is magnified by the tension surrounding the gifting: what supernatural gift will Stella get, and what will happen to her through it?

What drew me into the novel was this rich aroma, the intricate plot and its potential. Once the daughter, Stella’s, gift of visions is revealed, immediately their lives are forced to change. And, as can be seen in the movie The Matrix, in the Bible and in many other movies and books that involve fortelling the future, how people interpret and live with prophecy reveals the complexity, sorrow and joy of humanity.

In the book there is a strong association between the gifts and “sorrow”: the family has a tragic history. While many might seek the power that comes from such giftings, this story shows a little how difficult it is to have supernatural knowledge, how hard it is to know how to interpret and apply the experiences to our lives in our modern world today. This world hungers for such spiritual senses – proven by the popularity of meditation, natural healing, ESP, psychics, channelers, crystals and New Age stores – but yet it is also skeptical. I believe that people can have supernatural giftings, gifts that come from spiritual powers, beyond logic or senses. So I had a hard time trying to go to sleep, once I had started the book and seen the plot…I ended up finishing it at 4 am!

Hoffman though, I feel, did not make the best use of the potential of her plot. Her style is very descriptive and I would say even excessively feminine. And at times, she drives too much, making points in awkward ways using “vehicles” or devices in the story line. For example, two characters who seem destined to fall in love come to be sick at the same time, leading to this musing:

Was love like catching the common cold? Or was it more like a virus that afflicted a person gradually, until the unsuspecting individual was sick with love, consumed by it, riddled by its aftereffects?

Yeah, is love a virus or a cold?! I always wondered…what a romantic way to phrase it?!

The plot, to me, became like a soap opera by the end – a mostly happy soap opera ending but still a bit too cuddly and bubbly. And the giftings – well, I won’t spoil the plot, but I felt a bit disappointed. Then again, though, Hoffman was the author of Practical Magic , which became a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, so perhaps she writes with Hollywood in mind. I might be interested in seeing the movie this book could make. A novel to take to the beach for fun and amusement: I agree with the Times review that Probable Future is “pure entertainment”.

Hoffman as mother:
At the author’s web site , I found this interview…

Has being a mother affected the way you write, throughout your career? And if so, how?

AH: I’m much faster now. When you only have a certain amount of time to write, after a while you learn to use your time well or you stop writing. Still, as every mother knows, it’s a difficult balance, and most of us wind up feeling guilty no matter what we do. (I should be working more, I should be with the children more. No win. No way.) Ironically, now that my children are older and gone quite a bit, I find it harder to work when they’re not around. Too much free time!

Too much free time?! Now there’s an idea…hard to imagine though…maybe I’ll learn to write more efficiently one of these days (I am trying hard not to stop writing, to keep going at this stage of life)….but for now it’s off to bed for me to catch up on some zzzzzzs….and maybe have a dream or two of the future…

Tags: books