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Review: Alice Hoffman's Faithful finds her signature magic in the mundane

Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster

Alice Hoffman has long been known as a storyteller who weaves the believable with the unbelievable and finds the magic in the mundane, and her latest delivers on her brand in a big way. Here, Hoffman fosters enchantment in the most wounded of characters, Shelby Richmond, who at the outset of the novel has recovered physically but not mentally from a horrific car accident that's left her best friend, Helene, with a devastating brain injury.

Helene is a strange character, at times incomprehensible – but not in a manner that fails to serve the story. She has been elevated to the status of saint because of the tragedy, and is permanently frozen at 17, meaning she's no longer culpable for anything she may have done when she was fully alive and somewhat cruel. Meanwhile, Shelby has been left behind to bear it all, and she easily takes up the mantle of self-flagellation. The accident was not her fault, and no one ever made her feel it was, not even the heartbroken parents of the injured girl. There was no alcohol involved, the roads were icy – the only thing Shelby did differently that night was put on her seatbelt. But still, she punishes herself beyond any kind of reason.

There are drugs, suicide attempts and the construction of an impenetrable emotional wall it will take years for anyone to manage to scale. The book follows Shelby as she comes of age and ever-so-slowly becomes well again. She moves to New York, finds love, loses it, discovers who she wants to be and does things that other people find easy but that she, as damaged as she is, finds almost impossible. She also discovers the identity of the angel who has lived at the edges of her life, sending her postcards bearing cryptic messages – "Say something," "Do something," "Save something" – that inspire the bright, pivotal moments in her otherwise dark existence.

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Dreamlike and devastating, Hoffman's words are a beacon of hope in the desolate landscape she creates, much like the roses she describes as blooming in the dead of winter, outside Helene's window.

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