Monday, July 26, 2010

In Which Snickers Tackles Alice Hoffman and Tasseography.

Title/Author: Fortune's Daughter by Alice Hoffman

Published: 1985 by Berkley Trade
How I Got It: Borrowed it from the library.
Why I Read It: I was seduced into reading it by the alluring cup of tea on the cover.

The Review:
Warning! Spoilers Included.

Hoffman is a master at portraying the raw humanity of her characters. It's that portrayal of those raw emotions that we all feel - but could never explain - that makes her such a popular author. We can relate to her characters because of this, even though outwardly we have nothing in common with them. As Practical Magic was my first Hoffman novel, the bar was raised fairly high for the rest of her books. Fortune's Daughter doesn't even come close. It's not a stretch for me to say that it was a disappointment.

I found it hard to even pretend that I had something in common with Rae and Lila, the two protagonists. While they display the same open emotions as Hoffman's other characters, it just comes across as being wishy-washy instead of endearing. Rae just couldn't decide whether she should stay with her inattentive, detached boyfriend, or if she should do what the reader is screaming at her to do: leave him already, woman! See what I mean? Wishy-washy. Lilia, who began as a somewhat intriguing character, simply goes bonkers by the end of the novel, what with the whole summoning her dead baby's ghost and keeping it in her dresser drawer thing. Yeah. THAT. If you're thinking, "WTF?", then you're not alone. No, Hoffman does NOT clarify the reason for this display of insanity.

The character I wished I would have learned more about was the old fortune teller, Hattie. She was such an influential character - after all, it was she who taught Lila Tasseography (the art of reading tea leaves), and as another Goodreads reviewer noted, it was with her that the real magic in Fortune's Daughter seemed to lie. I found myself hoping and praying that she turn up later, but she never did - and somehow, this was the biggest disappointment of all. Maybe this was the point: Hattie would always remain a mystery, to both the readers and Lila. However, since she was the only interesting character, the point is almost lost on the reader, who meanwhile struggles to remain interested in the protagonists.

The Three Sisters, for which Three Sisters Street was named (and where Lila and Richard lived), pop up unexpectedly toward the end of the book, and get a whopping page and a half devoted to their story. I honestly don't understand the point of this, seeing as how they had no previous importance whatsoever in the plot, other than a street being named for them. They seem cool, really, they do. They just have no real place in this particular story. Maybe if the plot was changed to echo that of The Probable Future or Practical Magic, in which the most important characters of all are the ones who came before to leave a soft whisper of their legacy. In Fortune's Daughter, which centers mostly around the young ones, the babies, any generation that goes beyond that of "mother" simply has no reason to be included.

One last observation/complaint. Hoffman has a knack for describing the weather in her stories. She manages to intertwine the little things, like the weather and landscape, with the emotions of her characters. It acts as an amplifier and makes it all so REAL. Hoffman realizes that the weather really does have an effect on human emotions; that it tells the truth of the feelings we have yet to acknowledge ourselves. She uses this to her advantage, and wields it elegantly.

Except when she's so blatantly WRONG. I am a California native, born and raised. I can honestly say that there is no such thing as "earthquake weather", and anyone who says otherwise hasn't spent much time in California - Hoffman, this means you. There is no real way to predict earthquakes; the only reliable way to tell that something's wrong is to watch the animals. Note that I said "something", not "earthquake". Has Hoffman ever even been to California?

She puts so much emphasis on this earthquake thing in the beginning of the story. You just KNOW it's going to come in to play again later, and in a big way. Chapters upon chapters go by, and you start to think, "Well, it's Hoffman. I'm sure she'll tie it in somehow with her characters' lives, and it will be splendid." But nothing happens until somewhere near the end of the book, and it is neither monumental or significant. It reads as if Hoffman was plodding along, when suddenly it occurred to her, "Oh yeah! I made a big fuss at the beginning about an earthquake. I should throw one in there. Maybe no one will notice that I forgot about it." Oh, I noticed. I especially noticed how she failed to tie it in with her character's emotions.

To summarize: this book was a disappointment. If you're undeterred in your motivation to read it, go for it. Just don't expect it to live up to the standards of Practical Magic.

The Rating:
2 stars.

I didn't hate it enough to give it one star, nor did I care enough to bother with half-stars. Fortune's Daughter gets a solid 2 stars because it IS Alice Hoffman, after all - it's hard to hate her writing.


  1. I've never read any Alice Hoffman but I'm thinking that this won't be the book I'll start with. I've heard similar things about her writing so I'm going to have to at least give her a chance.

  2. Hey Snickers -
    Thanks for the great review. BTW, what is tasseography? I tried looking it up and Websters told me I was wacked and to go away. :)

  3. This totally sums up how I felt about this book too. Disappointed I didn't like it more but I kind of kept going to see if it would redeem itself. In the end, I didn't find anything I connected to which was kind of how I felt in reading The River King.


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