Practical Magic

Alice Hoffman  1995: Practical Magic Book 1

Sally and Gillian Owens are raised by their Aunt Frances and Aunt Bridget, who have magic in their DNA. The aunts have knowledge of the herbs that will help with pain or anxiety, and they do know that a good strong lye solution will dissolve . . . things that need to go away.  They know spells too – how to attract your heart’s desire, for example.

Sally and Gillian also have magic, which they work instinctively and sometimes involuntarily; Gillian attracts every boy in high school without even trying. After a childhood in which the girls cannot escape the tough realities of being shunned as witches throughout elementary and most of high school, Sally wants nothing more than a conventional life.  Gillian, on the other hand, battling feelings of unworthiness, leaves home early and lives a peripatetic life with a series of men – some husbands, some not.

Most of this engaging story is told from Sally’s point of view once Gillian has left town, which means we spend a lot of time getting to Sally’s daughters, beautiful Antonia and magically gifted Kylie.

Because this is the story of the Owens women, the male characters are peripheral, but when it counts they are saved from the bland sameness of the typical male character in a women’s novel by their lovable quirkiness.

This is not deep literature; without the magic,  it’s a standard work of women’s fiction that borders on chick lit. Women’s fiction and chick lit are fun, though, and Hoffman tells a story so skillfully that she makes it look easy.  I’m mindful of the skill and sheer hard work it takes  to discern which characters to develop, what life events to present to the readers,  and how to do all of this while lacing the twin themes of magic and love throughout the story.

I listened to the audio version, narrated by Christina Moore.  Moore’s voice has a wry, conversational quality that is perfectly paired with Alice Hoffman’s writing style.

I got the book from my local library.   I renewed it three times, because this story, while fun and well-written, did not pull me forward. At no time was I compelled to keep listening, and several times I had to backtrack because I lost interest.  This led me to slightly decrease my rating slightly.

I recommend this book for lovers of magical realism, women’s fiction,  coming of age stories, and love stories. Is is the first book published in the short Practical Magic series.