When March Murray and her teenage daughter return to the town of her youth to attend a funeral, she comes face to face with the troubled man she still loves desperately. Against the advice of everyone in town, she follows her heart and leaves a broken marriage in her wake. Read by Susan Ericksen.
"Book clubs, take note: in Here On Earth, her fantastic new novel about a mother's bittersweet trip home, the mistress of magical realism conjures up a world with shadowy undercurrents.... Oprah Winfrey, have I got a novel for you.... Here On Earth is Oprah lit at its finest, and I mean that as very high praise." --Entertainment Weekly
For more than 20 years, New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman has been writing stories that have touched the hearts of her legions of fans. Now, with her 12th novel, Here On Earth, Hoffman explores the hidden passions that lurk in suburban Massachusetts and the damaging results love can have.
After nearly two decades of living on the West Coast, March Murray, along with her feisty teenage daughter, Gwen, returns to her hometown in Massachusetts. She returns to attend the funeral of Judith Dale, the housekeeper who helped raised her. However, by returning to this sleepy suburb, she is reunited with Hollis, March's former soul mate and lover. Hollis was an abandoned child who March's father had taken in as a teenager and treated like a son. When Hollis left after a fight, March waited every day for three years for him to return, wondering what had gone wrong. Now she has been reunited with her long-lost love.
By encountering Hollis, March becomes painfully aware of the choices that she has made in life as well as the choices everyone around her has made -- including Judith Dale and March's brother Alan. March learns that Judith knew a lot more about love than she could have ever suspected. And Alan, who always resented Hollis's presence and was painfully malicious to him, has been left grief-stricken, with alcohol as his only solace.
March soon realizes that her attraction to Hollis has not died, and that she still has an overwhelming attraction to the onetime abandoned child, who is now a millionaire. March jeopardizes her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, and her own happiness in one final attempt to reclaim the past. Glamour magazine writes, "March quickly becomes obsessed with her long-lost love, Hollis, a bitter and difficult man whom March believes she alone understands. That big trouble will ensue seems all but inevitable. But Hoffman's taste for melodrama is balanced here by her uncanny ability to imbue even the most recognizable situations with supernatural vividness -- an unpredictable touch of magic that is this author's calling card."
Here on Earth' owes a lot to 'Wuthering Heights.' It is a testament to Hoffman's gifts for language and narrative -- not to mention her boldness -- that the novel works at all. . . despite Hoffman's confident lyricism, her novel's premise -- of doomed, fated love, submitted to without question -- never becomes fully plausible. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Often, in her soulful novels, Hoffman (Practical Magic, etc.) lets mystical atmospherics-animals that take on superhuman qualities, intense colors and temperatures, minute vibrations in the air that signal ghosts or spirits-do all the work while her characters behave in strange and incredible ways under the influence of forces outside themselves. In this novel, the characters' behavior, while highly emotional, is initially at least traceable to psychological motivation. Unfortunately, Hoffman abandons psychological credibility halfway through, after which her protagonist, March Murray, behaves like an automaton. When March comes back to her childhood home in a small Massachusetts town after 19 years in California, she is swept with longing for Hollis, her former soul mate and lover who ran away in a fit of pique. March waited for him for three years, then married her next-door neighbor, Richard Cooper. When Hollis finally did return, he wed Richard's sister, who has since died. Hollis now determines to win March back, and she can't resist his single-minded pursuit. Hoffman conveys the mesmerizing lure of a lost love with haunting sensuality; but March's excuses for Hollis's violent personality and for his physical abuse of her and her teenaged daughter, Gwen, are well beyond the willed myopia of even obsessive love. Other love affairsbetween the housekeeper who raised March and the man who was her father's law partner; and between rebellious teenager Gwen (the best character by far, drawn with delightful realism) and March's reclusive brother's sonare described with much more insight and plausibility. The high drama of this novel, and Hoffman's assured and lyrical prose, may carry the day for readers who can accept the premise that a passionate obsession can make sweet reason, maternal protectiveness and the instinct for self-preservation fly out the window.
As this novel opens, March Murray Cooper returns to her hometown, ostensibly to bury the woman who raised her but needing to resolve the unfinished business of her youthful love for Hollis, from whom she has been separated for years. Hollis has now grown into a man embittered by loneliness. He has learned neither to forgive nor to forget, and March must discover whether he can ever learn to love. Hoffman (Practical Magic, LJ 12/94) takes great care here to examine the many facets of love and relationships, turning them like a prism to reflect on March and Hollis. Hoffman's evocative language and her lyrical descriptions of place contrast sharply with the emotional scars that her characters must uncover and bear. Her novel is a haunting tale of a woman lost in and to love; it will enthrall the reader from beginning to end. Highly recommended. Caroline M. Hallsworth, Cambrian Coll., Sudbury, Ontario
[W]hat makes Alice Hoffman's fiction so consistently compelling? Is it her story lines, reminiscent of Harlequin romances but with occasionally peppery dashes of cultural savviness? Or is it her characters, Anne Tyler-esque in their oddities, but without the irony? Or perhaps it's that quasi-New Age voice, lulling you into a Marianne Williamson world where one's fate is left to the movements of the sun, the moon, the planets or just some unnamed Higher Being?
Hoffman's fans won't be disappointed by the airy-fairy Here on Earth, her 12th novel, which weaves all of Hoffman's usual themes into a dreamy, intricate family melodrama, complete with alcoholism, wife-beating, obsessional love and whiffs of murder. It's the story of March Murray, who returns to her ancestral home at Fox Hill in New England after spending decades away in "lemon-colored" Palo Alto. In tow is her difficult teenage daughter Gwen, who is described as "pretty ... in spite of all her sabotage." At issue is a death in the family, but we know that March is really back to face her old ghosts, this time in the form of her adopted brother Hollis, whom she has been obsessively thinking about ever since his disappearance 20 years earlier.
Confused? Don't be. Here on Earth, despite its convoluted plot threads and histories, is at heart a romance novel with a bite. As with a good made-for-TV movie, you can pretty much guess what will happen to poor old March, whose naiveté is at best frustrating and at worst unlikable. Nor is it any surprise that Hollis -- with his black, snapping eyes, and whose exits are followed by a blast of cold wind -- reveals himself to be Evil Incarnate: Subtlety is not one of Hoffman's strong points.
Still, this novel's comfy, confident voice is enough to lure you into an armchair for the better part of an evening. Hoffman's world is a place where emotions become aromas: Longing is "the scent of grass on her pillow"; anger is a "scorching scent"; mourning is "the scent of roses sweet and ripe and sorrowful." Moons peep out behind trees, fox-colored dogs herald the advent of evil and dreams are to be courted and followed.
Hoffman relies on her readers suspending a certain amount of disbelief, which may lull her into thinking she can get away with some occasionally terrible writing. "One look from him is more substantial than the wooden bar she's leaning her elbows upon," Ms. Hoffman breathlessly writes when March spies Hollis for the first time. "It's realer than the bottles of whiskey lined up behind the counter; realer than the pull of fabric as Susie tugs on her jacket." Thankfully, descriptions like that are few and far between. Ms. Hoffman may have more in common with Robert James Waller than Robert Louis Stevenson, but Here on Earth is no toothless romance. It's curiously pleasurable, and reading it induces only a minimum of guilt. --Salon
From the author of Practical Magic (1995), among others, a kind of inside-out Bridges of Madison County in which the middle- aged mother of a teenager falls in love with a bad man, leaves her husband for him, and winds up abused and isolated. The results are predictably depressing.
It might seem that March Murray has purely sentimental reasons for leaving her apparently happy life in California (nice house, professor husband) to attend her former housekeeper's funeral in Jenkintown, Mass., the bleak, suffocatingly tiny town where she grew up. After all, Mrs. Dale did help March's father raise her after the girl's mother died, and she remained a loyal friend until her death. But anyone who knew March in her teenage years must suspect that her real reason for returning with sullen teenage daughter in tow is for a reunion with Hollis, the bad boy March was once inseparable from. An abandoned child and the product of a series of detention homes, Hollis was brought to the Murray house as a charity-case boarder when he was in his teens. He kept his own counsel, except when sending smoldering glances March's way. The two became lovers until a misunderstanding split them apartMarch to marry the rich boy next door, Hollis to amass a fortune, marry March's sister-in-law, and survive her to wait, brooding, for March's return. Their heated reunion leads to the breakup of March's marriage, and, despite the warnings of practically everyone in town, March moves into Hollis's gloomy mansion, puts up with his neurotic possessiveness, and watches him scare her daughter back to California before she realizes that the Hollis she lives with now is nothing but the evil, heartless relic of the wounded boy she once loved.
A chilly, hopeless love story with an unhappy conclusion. Hard to see what readers will find to like in such a tale.