Review

Practical Magic

by Alice Hoffman

"For more than two hundred years the Owens women have been blamed for everything that's gone wrong in town."

With an opener like that, it does not feel like PRACTICAL MAGIC --- Alice Hoffman's novel about a family of witches --- is going to be a light read. And it isn't. It's a medium-weighted one.

Two orphaned sisters Gillian and Sally are raised by their eccentric aunts in a big Gothic meets Victorian house complete with lots of black cats, scurrying mice, dark hallways and velvet drapes. Did we mention that everyone in the town thinks the aunts are witches, and by association, so are Gillian and Sally? The "Magic" in the title gives that part away pretty quickly. The "Practical" element becomes clearer later when late night knockers visit the aunts' kitchen for help --- practical help in matters of love, passion, and well, you get the picture.

And practical is exactly what the aunts are. They let life shape its course through each of the two sisters. Gillian, fair and beautiful as she is wild and whimsical, turns heads as often as she changes her mind. Falling in and out of love from one week to the next --- if not day to day --- Gillian is balanced by older sibling Sally. Dark and dependable, steady and resolute, Sally walks through life in studious fashion careful to avoid all of love's pitfalls. Unlike Gillian. What bonds these two sisters, besides their bewitchingness is their distaste for their home and their desire to escape the aunts. Gillian vaults out first. Sally follows later, her own two daughters now in tow and the memories of her beloved and deceased husband trailing in her wake.

However, life has different plans for the sisters and escaping their home forever is not among them. When they return to Massachusetts, the story combines romance, fear and fate.

Hoffman's style is neither difficult or obscure to understand. Told almost entirely through the third person, PRACTICAL MAGIC, is readily accessible to a wide audience. It is neither dark nor burdened by sexual overtones. It's a perfect read for a Fall afternoon.

Reviewed by Ashley Vaughn on January 22, 2011

Practical Magic
by Alice Hoffman

  • Publication Date: October 1, 1998
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425168468
  • ISBN-13: 9780425168462