Daily Archives: 10/10/2012

#40: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

How did this turn into this?

Because Hollywood!

I haven’t seen the movie Practical Magic in years, but it’s one of those movies that makes me stop and watch if I’m ever flipping channels and it’s on.  I’m not actually sure if I’ve seen the entire thing.  I like it a lot though and picked up this book on a whim after reading some heavy non-fiction.  I thought it would be nice to relax with a good couch read.

As I read I kept wondering if this was the book the movie was based on or if there is another book called Practical Magic that was used.  I even went to  IMDb to check because, seriously… how?  My friend Jenn figures that  the script for that movie was waved NEAR a copy of the book once.  A few things stuck, but then they just did whatever was going to test well.

Happily, I liked both the book and the movie, but I really wish when Hollywood gets  a book and changes it, they should rename the movie and add Inspired By The Book “Blah Blah Blah”.  You’re just confusing people and making die-hard book snobs snobbier.

Here come spoilers, but you probably already know the plot, right?  And if you read it, you still won’t know all the hows and whys.

Gillian and Sally Owens have lived with the aunts ever since their parents died during a second honeymoon love fest.  There were never any rules and the girls did whatever they wanted to.  Sally is the oldest and decides it’s up to her to create and enforce rules for her sister and to try and bring some sense of normality to the house.

The problem is the aunts are witches and everyone knows it.  Although people go out of their way in order to avoid the house during the day, lovesick women will creep to the backdoor under the cover of darkness to beg for spells to grant their hearts’ desires.  Sally and Gillian peek into the kitchen to watch these women kill doves if it means the man they want will follow them no matter where they go.

Disgusted, the two sisters vow to never let a man ruin them this way.

Now older, Gillian fulfills this promise by sleeping with any man she fancies and getting married over and over.  You can’t get ruined if you’re the one in charge.

Sally, on the other hand, resigns herself to a solitary life until she crashes into a man and falls sick in love.  Luckily he’s felt the same way about her for years.  They get married, have two daughters, and then he dies.

Gillian is long gone at this point.  Random postcards show up and Sally never knows where she is, but she calls every single week, urging Sally to get out of bed and live.

Sally, finally broken by her outsider life, grabs her girls and runs.  She doesn’t want them to have the ostracized life she had.  She never had friends, she was constantly teased and she always longed for something normal.

Years pass and Sally lives her normal life in her normal house with her normal teenage daughters (whatever normal is for a teenage girl) and everything is the same and she is happy.  Or at least content.

And then Gillian shows up with a dead body in the car.

So that sucks.

Turns out Gillian finally fell in love with the worst guy possible.  He was violent when he was alive and he’s still fucking things up now that he’s dead.  Remembering lessons from the aunts, they bury him under the lilacs in the backyard and Gillian decides to crash with Sally for a little while.

When Gillian appears though, everything changes.  Sally’s youngest daughter falls madly in love with her cool aunt, much to the terror of Sally.  Sally knows that if Gillian is given an afternoon, she will undo thirteen years of mothering.  The two sisters pick up arguments they’ve been having since they were girls and it’s hard not to be on Sally’s side.  Gillian is a mess.

And then the dead guy in the backyard starts haunting them and un-burying parts of himself.  And then Gillian falls in love, which is impossible since she’s Gillian.  And then a cop shows up to find out where the boyfriend went.  And then Sally falls in love with the cop.  And then things get even crazier and it’s time to call the aunts.  So they show up and do witchy things and everyone lives happily ever after.

I really did like this book although I liked the movie better.  Keeping Sally in the aunts’ house instead of having her run off was a nice touch.  I liked that her girls became teenagers in the book, but I also liked them being kids in the movie to echo Sally and Gillian.  Nicole Kidman and her super short skirts were perfect for Gillian and Sandra Bullock’s crazy beautiful hair was made for Sally.  I liked having them in mind while reading.

If you’re looking for a relaxed beach read, snag this from the library.  Or if you just want to sink into the couch and not turn pages, find the movie.  It’s a nice rainy day activity.

#39: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Jim Kay, Inspired by Siobhan Dowd

How do you grieve for something that isn’t over?  If you acknowledge your fears, does that mean you’re giving permission for the end to happen?

Thirteen year old Conor has been having nightmares.  12:07 on the dot.  Wide awake, trying not to scream, wishing he  had someone to talk to.  He’s been alone since everyone found out his mom has cancer.  The kids at school figured out that the best way to deal with their own unease is to ignore him.  The bullies know he won’t fight back or tattle, so he spends his school time invisible and bloodied.  His only friend betrayed him and he can’t look at her without feeling angry, and he doesn’t want to feel anger because that reminds him of the dreams.  Reminds him of the monster.

But then a different monster appears.  Huge, reaching branches.  Roots that could crush his house in a moment.  A gaping maw that can swallow him whole.

But he doesn’t care.  He’s not even afraid.

This isn’t the real monster.  It’s not his monster.

But why is it here and why does it insist that Conor has a story to tell?

This book is beautiful, and that’s before the illustrations.  Siobhan Dowd began to create this book but died before she could start.  Patrick Ness, who never met her, was asked to complete her work.  Wisely, he realized he couldn’t tell her story in her voice.  What he could do was take her ideas in, let them grow, and tell a different story to honor her characters.  It’s not Dowd’s story, but it is her reflection.  Jim Kay finishes the tribute with black ink and textures to capture Conor’s fear and hope along with his helplessness and isolation.  It’s painful and perfect and I had to keep putting the book down to scrub away the tears that were running back into my ears and into my pillow.  The hazards of reading in bed.

There is so much to like about this book.  My favorite genre is folklore and retold tales, and Ness pulls from the Green Man legend to create a character that is made of shades of gray.  There are stories within the stories and Conor, and you, aren’t sure who the bad guy is.  What enemy are you supposed to be paying attention to?  What do you hold on to and what wishes to you make when nothing makes sense?  Maybe the new monster is actually black and white with nothing in between.

The most powerful thing about this book was the idea of grief as permission.  Conor and his mother refuse to let her cancer take them down, but things are getting worse.  She’s fighting and she’s pulled through before.  But what if…  What happens if you finish that sentence?  If you admit that bad things can happen, are you letting them in the door?  If Conor allows himself to feel fear, does that mean he’s giving up on her?  If you grieve for something that’s in process, does that mean you’re admitting that it’s over and you no longer trust your mother to live?

Did I mention I had to keep putting the book down to deal with the tears?  Have you ever gotten to that point where you’re not actively sobbing anymore but tears continue rolling down your face?  And then you think you’ve pulled yourself together so you can keep going and you take a deep breath to steady yourself and you hear your breath catch and skip and you realize you’re not done crying but you’ve got to finish this book because who is the monster and what is going to happen to Conor’s mom?

It hurt so much because the story and words were so true.  Kay’s artwork is a perfect match to the fear and overwhelming helplessness that Conor feels.  When you’re thirteen, you have moments where you already feel minuscule and when you add cancer to the mix, you might as well disappear.  Kay pulls these feelings in and his pictures capture those moments where you’ve trapped all of your emotions into a tight ball into the center of your chest, but you know at any moment it’s going to explode.  He smears blackness across the pages and it is a perfect companion to Ness’ story and Dowd’s beginning.

I highly recommend this book, but you probably don’t want to read it in public.  So much sniffling and tears.