What I liked
This is my first exposure to Alice Hoffman. I found her while browsing for magical realism authors in my library, and I got this particular book because it was immediately available. After reading a few other short story collections recently, I was pleasantly surprised that these stories shared a common thread—the town of Blackwell, Massachusetts.
In many of the stories, the “magic” is subtle or is simply coincidental. But in my favorite story, “The Fisherman’s Wife,” it’s right up front and a key ingredient of the story. I found more solid footing on the clear break with reality rather than the myth-infused stories of real life.
What I didn’t like
While the stories feature a wide range of characters, I found them (especially the women) to be too same-y from story to story. They might have intentionally been similar—many are from the same few families in town—but their predictability made the stories somewhat indistinguishable. It’s been a couple months now since I read it, and I only have clear memories of a handful of characters and plot points.
What I can learn
Modern magical realism doesn’t require the sweeping epic tales that Gabriel García Márquez’s stories have. The Red Garden has some similarities to his work, especially One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I wouldn’t really consider them comps. (That is, if you loved One Hundred Years, I can’t guarantee you’ll like The Red Garden.) That’s good news for my WIP novel.
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