If you enjoy magic realism or if you liked the 1998 movie “Practical Magic,” starring Sandra Bullock (Sally Owens) and Nicole Kidman (Gillian Owens), you might enjoy Alice Hoffman’s latest offering, “The Rules of Magic.”
The book is the back story of the aunts who raise sisters Sally and Gillian after their parents die in a fire.
Frances (Franny) and Bridgette (Jet), along with their younger brother Vincent – who is not mentioned in the first book – are raised by their parents in New York City.
Their mother, Susanna Owens, is a direct descendant of the Maria Owens a 17th century witch who escaped hanging by slipping the noose. Maria went on to raise a family, living in a beautiful house on Magnolia Street in a small Massachusetts town where the locals were wary of her.
Maria, it turns out, was the mistress of a powerful man who eventually turned against her, but not before leaving her with a fortune in jewels.
In order to protect her offspring, Maria puts a curse on Owens women, dooming the men who love them to sad ends.
Susanna escapes Massachusetts as soon as she’s grown, lives in Paris and falls hopelessly in love with a young man, but as per the curse, it doesn’t end well.
She marries a dull psychiatrist, has three children and settles into life in the Big Apple.
Although Susanna has the gift, she doesn’t want her children to practice magic – thus the rules: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love.
The children grow up chafing under Susanna’s restrictions, knowing that they have untapped powers.
Fran is pale and has “blood red” hair that, when wet, drips crimson, not clear.
Jet has long black hair and is terribly shy.
Vincent is so full of charisma that a nurse tries to steal him from the hospital right after he’s born.
As per the rules, none of the children need worry about drowning, as they are destined to float. This characteristic features prominently in one of the storylines, with the ripple effect lasting years.
When the sisters at last establish a house together, they develop their own rules. Among them are:
- Never drink milk after a thunderstorm, for it will certainly be soured.
- Always leave out seed for the birds when the first snow falls.
- Wash you hair with rosemary.
- Drink lavender tea when you cannot sleep.
- Know that the only remedy for love is to love more.
Hoffman is a master storyteller, letting the magic seep through the plot rather than using action to drive it. Although ultimately satisfying, it seems that Hoffman’s story could have been completed with a few less pages.
Marin Ireland is an Earphones Award–winning narrator who brings a distinct voice to each character, making the almost 11-hour journey pleasant.
I enjoyed getting to know Franny, Jet and Vincent. Sure hope Hollywood comes a’courtin’. Their stories will make another great film.