Thursday, January 10, 2008

Julie's Review: the River King

Summary: Set in and around an exclusive private school in fictional Haddan, Mass., bestselling author Hoffman's (Practical Magic; Here on Earth) latest novel flows as swiftly and limpidly as the Haddan River, the town's mystical waterway. As one expects in a Hoffman novel, strange things have always happened in HaddanDa combination of Mother Nature gone awry and human nature following suit. In 1858, the year the school was completed, a devastating flood almost destroyed it and the town. The esteemed headmaster, Dr. Howe, married a pretty local girl who hung herself from the rafters "one mild evening in March." Local superstitions prove true more often than not, and twice in recent history a black, algae-laden rain has covered people and buildings with a dark sludge. An uneasy peace has always existed between the locals and the Haddan School, based on the latter's financial benefit to the community and the local authorities' willingness to look the other way when necessary to maintain the school's reputation. But when student August Pierce is found drowned in the Haddan River, detective Abel Grey is flooded with memories of his own teenage brother's suicide, and refuses to look away. Supporting characters are richly textured: new photography instructor Betsy Chase feels unsafe in Haddan, yet somehow finds herself engaged to a mysterious young history professor Eric Herman; Carlin Leander, a poor, strikingly beautiful young girl, comes to Haddan to recreate herself and escape her neglectful mother, and becomes misfit August's only friend while dating the most popular boy on campus; Helen Davis, chair of the history department, is haunted by a long-ago affair she had with Dr. Howe, which she believes had something to do with his young wife's suicide. As ever, Hoffman mixes myth, magic and reality, addressing issues of town and gown, enchanting her readers with a many-layered morality tale and proving herself once again an inventive author with a distinctive touch.'s Weekly

Review: I love books and movies that take place at a private school. I think it has to do with the fact that those kinds of schools have an air of mystery and history to them. My friend lent me this book and I have to say I'm quite happy she did. I've only read one other Alice Hoffman book,Here on Earth (Oprah's Book Club), and enjoyed it. But unlike that book this one had some magic and a definite sense of mystery. I will say that the Haddan School is not a happy place nor is the town that it is set it. It seems like the weather is always miserable, either snowing or raining, and that nothing good ever really happens to anyone either in the town of Haddan or at the school.

At one point or another all of us has dealt with feeling like an outsider and that can occur even when you are an "insider". I liked the character of Gus and felt for him at times and at other times I felt that he was just making his life more miserable on purpose. Maybe he wanted it like that, maybe he's one of those people who would be constantly miserable in life. I liked how he had the guts to approach Carlin and I enjoyed how their friendship blossomed and then slowly withered away. Being a teenager isn't fun and trying to maintain friendships while finding out who you are and where you belong is even more troublesome and this is what happened to Carlin and Gus. He snubbed her when she started dating the "most popular and handsome guy" at Haddan.

Tragedy strikes the school and this is where the magic and mystery enter the story. Enter the characters of Betsy and Abe. Abe is the local town detective and quite the ladies man. Betsy is engaged to a history teacher at the school and quite the photographer. Abe knows that there is something not quite right with the way the tragedy happens and it haunts him and spurs him on to look further into the case, which is not his norm style. Abe asks Betsy to assist him with a part of the investigation and there is an attraction on both sides. (That's all I'm going to say about that).

I liked the way Alice Hoffman wrote all the characters and how they were dealing with the tragedy. How they were haunted by what happened and what it means to let go but not to forget. Alice Hoffman is unique in her ability to weave magic and mystery into a story and have it be totally believable. I believe her and Jodi Picoult to be similar in their writing styles but they use it in different ways and for different genres.

Final Take: 4.5/5

ETA: I was just reading Jodi Picoult's website and came across this quote:
What would the title of your biography be and who would you want to write it?
The Stories of My Life – that’s catchy, isn’t it, LOL? I would probably love to have Alice Hoffman write it, if only because I’d read ANYTHING she writes.

How cool is that?! Turns out Alice Hoffman is one of her favorite authors.


heather (errantdreams) said...

Thank you for writing such a compelling review---this book is going straight onto my wish list! (If only my wish list weren't so long...)

Julie said...

Thank you! I hope you enjoy it when you read it. I have a thing about books that people lend me..they have to be read before anything else on my TBR.