Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman
When I set out on my annual October-fest of spooky book reading, I had stated I wanted to read both Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic, by Alica Hoffman, in order to decide which one I prefer.
Which was stupid, because why on earth would I put myself in a dilemma like that? Both of these books were beautiful. I had only seen Practical Magic the movie before this, and while I really enjoyed it, it offered only a slice in time of what I see is an entire human history Hoffman created over decades. Her world-building is subtle and detailed and she does such a good job at creating very real, very sympathetic yet flawed individuals doing their best to make things work with what they have.
All this to say I couldn't choose between the two - to me, they are equally delightful. Both are lovely and are paced with an unhurried grace. And both are generational stories, all the better because the two books are tied together. After reading Practical Magic, I am so happy that The Rules of Magic exists, because I would be dying to know the aunts' story. In fact, I believe that Maria Owens deserves her story told as well ... is that in the works? I would adore it if Hoffman does a pre-prequel, going right back to the time of settlement (which is of course the creepiest, most superstitious and ripe for Halloween time in American history.)
Practical Magic follows the lives of orphaned sisters Gillian and Sally Owens, and then later Sally's teenaged girls Antonia and Kylie. In many ways the books are similar, because as each Owens woman grows up, she has to come to terms with who she is, and that which makes her different. Gillian, who always believed she wasn't worthy of love since her parents died, becomes a whirlwind of desire and frenzied irresponsibility. She does her best to mess up her life in a beautiful hurricane. Sally takes the opposite approach and tries to hide everything about her that is different, which means hiding her entire self.
"She disguised her own nature so well that after a while she grew uncertain of her own abilities."
The book isn't itself about magic, the craft of witches, but rather about their humanity and how they deal with the knocks life brings, and love. Hoffman has always been upfront that love is the hardest, the most destructive, and the everything that there is about being human.
"Now whenever he kissed her, she cried and wished she had never fallen in love in the first place. It had made her too helpless, because that's what love did. There was no way around it and no way to fight it."
Hoffman writes about love - and lust - so well. She captures the fever and the flush of it; the dizzy, unable-to-take-your-hands-off-of-each-other kind of love. But also the slow burn, I'll-be-there-for-you-for-always love. And the we're-sisters-we're-in-this-together-I've-always-got-your-back love. I love a good sister drama!
And she also captures the humanity and the love that comes from our flaws. Both Sally and Gillian end up running away from their lives, and both discover that home will always be there and running away isn't always the mistake we've been warned about while growing up. And the gorgeous messages about self acceptance! When Gillian shies away from the aunts, shy both about the 18 year absence between them, but also about the wear that hard living for two decades had taken on her stunning face. They greet her with such love and acceptance I was blinking back tears.
"Although she'd never believe it, those lines in Gillian's face are the most beautiful part about her. They reveal what she's gone through and what she's survived and who exactly she is, deep inside."
In the end, all the Owens women from all generations must come together in order to rid their lives of the pestilence of a hateful man. They come together in love, acceptance and humanity, and in doing so are liberated to venture forth into their futures, fully embracing every part of themselves. So these books are less about magic and much more about love and sisterhood and I am 100% here for it. I also am entirely sure I have a crush on Alice Hoffman. These are books that can be read at any time of year and will always bring you joy, I think.