The Probable Future

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"Women of the Sparrow family have unusual gifts. Elinor can detect falsehood. Her daughter, Jenny, can see people's dreams when they sleep. Granddaughter Stella has a mental window on the future - a future that she might not want to see." In The Probable Future this cast of characters confronts a haunting past - and a very current murder against the evocative backdrop of small town New England. The Probable Future chronicles the Sparrows' legacy as young Stella struggles to cope with her disturbing clairvoyance. Her potential to ruin or redeem
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Probable Future

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"Women of the Sparrow family have unusual gifts. Elinor can detect falsehood. Her daughter, Jenny, can see people's dreams when they sleep. Granddaughter Stella has a mental window on the future - a future that she might not want to see." In The Probable Future this cast of characters confronts a haunting past - and a very current murder against the evocative backdrop of small town New England. The Probable Future chronicles the Sparrows' legacy as young Stella struggles to cope with her disturbing clairvoyance. Her potential to ruin or redeem becomes unbearable when one of her premonitions puts her father in jail, wrongly accused of homicide. Yet this ordeal also leads Stella to the grandmother she was forbidden to meet and to a historic family home full of talismans from her ancestors.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
There's something almost sinfully satisfying about Alice Hoffman's fiction. In this archly ironic age, it's deeply unhip to confess a taste for magic and happy endings, but most people can't survive on a strict diet of postmodern posturing. Like a piece of old-fashioned chocolate cake, Hoffman's 16th novel feeds a craving. It may not be especially memorable or surprising, but it's delicious while it lasts. — Janice P. Nimura
USA Today
And although Hoffman has long imbued life with elements of a fairy tale, as in earlier books like Practical Magic, the grim realities of the times in which we live make this story particularly seductive. — Susan Kelly
The Los Angeles Times
Hoffman has peopled this book with a cast of believable, if not especially memorable, characters illustrating a range of human behavior, from the almost pathological selfishness of Will Avery to the deep-seated kindness and thoughtfulness of men like Dr. Stewart and Will's shy but loyal younger brother, Matt. She also paints an engaging picture of small-town New England life. Her themes — the importance of learning to see things as they are, the redemptive potential of kindness and love — are just as appealing. Her fiction may not be literature in the honorific sense, it may not even be "good writing," but there are good reasons why many people enjoy reading it. — Merle Rubin
Publishers Weekly
Magic is once again knitted into the fabric of a Hoffman novel, this one revolving around a New England family living with the legacy of witchcraft. In colonial Unity, Mass., Rebecca Sparrow was tried as a witch and drowned because of her physical inability to feel pain. Her present-day descendants possess extraordinary gifts. Elinor, the dying matriarch of the Sparrow family, has the ability to discern liars. Her estranged daughter, Jenny Avery, can divine other people's dreams. And Jenny's 13-year-old daughter, Stella, knows how and when people will die. Jenny is recently divorced from Will Avery, a charming but erratic and hard-drinking music teacher; she and Stella live in Boston, where Stella is a charity case at the exclusive Rabbit School for girls. Brainy and unpopular, Stella chafes at her mother's invasive omniscience while trying to make sense of her own powers. When Stella asks her father, Will, to try to prevent a death, he ends up becoming a murder suspect, and her mother sends her to live with Elinor at Cake House, her home in Unity, until the scandal dies down. Jenny and Will soon join her, as does Will's brother, Matt, a reclusive scholar, and Stella's best friend, the audacious, jaded Juliet Aronson. Matt is studying the life of Rebecca Sparrow, and his research reveals strange echoes of Rebecca's story in the lives of her descendants. Subplots are numerous: Brock Stewart, Elinor's doctor, has been secretly in love with Elinor for years; his teenage grandson, Hap, meets the Sparrows and develops a crush on Juliet; and Will becomes close with Liza, an old high school classmate of Jenny's. The plot is crowded, and readers will wish for more time with each of the full-bodied, wholly absorbing characters, but few will complain: Hoffman's storytelling is as spellbinding as ever. Author tour. (June 24) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hoffman has become a master at weaving the contemporary realities and difficulties of modern life with strange, secret pasts. The magic in this novel, reminiscent of Hoffman's earlier work, Practical Magic, is perhaps better described as witchcraft. Events are complicated by the pettiness of small-town standards and a landscape where everyone knows everyone else's business, yet it's to a small town an hour from Boston where the characters run the moment there is trouble. On another level, despite being able to see people's deaths in advance or read the dreams of others or be pierced with ten arrowheads and feel no pain, these characters seem reasonably ordinary-and angry. The author expertly conveys the tensions that pervade multiple generations of a family, whether it be a teenager's reaction to her parents' divorce, a widowed mother devoting all her attention to her garden, or a high school student with a promising future eloping with the town troublemaker. Listeners easily become involved in their lives and care what happens to them even when we can more or less guess the outcome. History, it would seem, can't help but repeat itself, but there are surprises. Read by Susan Ericksen, this program is essential for most audio collections.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-On her 13th birthday, Stella Avery receives a remarkable gift. Like her mother, grandmother, and other women in her family reaching back to the 1600s, she awakens to discover that she now has a special paranormal ability. Her mother, Jenny, dreams other people's dreams; and her grandmother, Elinor, can ferret out deceit and lies by looking into someone's eyes. When Stella foresees a woman's death and has her father warn the victim, a series of cataclysmic events ensue. Her father is charged with the woman's murder, Jenny and Stella are forced to move in with Elinor, and eventually the eerie tale of their matriarch, Rebecca Sparrow, is brought full circle. Hoffman introduces elements of magical realism, making the book reminiscent of her novel Practical Magic (Berkley, 1996). With a home environment that includes a haunted pond, roads full of toads, and snapping turtles at every bush, the setting emphasizes the women's otherworldliness. The strength of the Sparrow females allows them to face prejudice, love, accusations, threats, and death, all the while keeping their personal integrity, finding the capacity to go on, and experiencing life as good. Complexly constructed, with intertwined plots, memorable settings, and intriguing characters, this is a magnificent novel.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A teenaged girl's prophetic powers constitute the eye of several storms brewed up in the magical-realist's overstuffed, ungainly, improbably absorbing 16th novel. Taking a page or two from her Practical Magic (1995), Hoffman (Blue Diary, 2001, etc.) once again creates a trio of women gifted and burdened with extrasensory powers. Stella Avery discovers on her 13th birthday that she is able to see people's futures-an alarming phenomenon that causes her father Will to be falsely suspected of murder. Stella's mother Jenny, contentedly divorced from the feckless Will (who has a long history of selfish and irresponsible behavior), similarly troubled by her own ability to "read" people's dreams, sends Stella away from scandal and possible danger to live with maternal grandmother Elinor, a widowed recluse who tends her beloved garden and considers the fruits of her ability to "smell out" falsehood, while she's dying of cancer. First Jenny, then Will follow Stella's path, and the tale opens-often quite awkwardly-to involve Elinor's physician and friend Brock Stewart (who has secretly loved her for decades); Jenny's formerly mousy high-school classmate Liza Hull (a woman reawakened and transformed by love); Dr. Stewart's affable grandson Hap, who befriends Stella and falls for her acerbic visiting girlfriend Juliet Aronson; Will's "good" brother Matt, a scholarly bachelor who has never forgotten Jenny; and the 17th-century figure of Rebecca Sparrow, a troubled and doomed woman evoked by both Matt's historical researches and the experiences of her descendants, which are eventually seen to be replicating Rebecca's own. Hoffman flits from one center of interest to another like a distracted butterfly.The effect is both jarring and intriguing. We're interested in all her people, but their subordination to the increasingly busy plot tends to drain away interest created by their beguiling individual eccentricities. Enough stylish invention here for several novels, but this one's center cannot hold. Maybe next time. Author tour. Agent: Elaine Markson/Elaine Markson Agency
From the Publisher
“A thrilling adventure of literary alchemy . . . A magical, mystical tour de force of pure entertainment.”
The Seattle Times

“Delicious . . . Hoffman is an unapologetic optimist, and optimism is in short supply these days. It feels like a vacation to curl up with [The Probable Future].”
The New York Times Book Review

“Instantly alluring . . . A mysterious, modern-day fairy tale . . . Hoffman is an amazingly talented writer with a beautiful sense of sentence construction, an intriguing imagination, and the ability to create compelling, complex characters that readers care about.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Hoffman’s ethereal tale of a family of women with supernatural gifts is a magical escape, grounded in the complex relationships between mothers and daughters.”
Marie Claire

“HOFFMAN KNOWS HOW TO PUT MAGIC INTO HER NOVELS, sometimes as an element of the plot;
always in the quality of her writing.”
The Hartford Courant

The Probable Future dazzles with its bristling examination of life’s trying tests of the women of the Sparrow family. The electrifying result is an under-the-microscope look at love, friendship, and the ties that blind and bind.”
The Seattle Times

“[A] bewitching story of gifted women unlucky at love . . . Hoffman is now expert at sketching the New England landscape in the past and future, and the equally chilly psychological landscape of extraordinary women trapped in an ordinary word. . . . She shows a deft hand at tracing the movement from child to adult, showing an unusual ability to create sympathetic characters of all ages.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Hoffman has perfected her very own entrancing style of magical realism and mystical romance anchored to the moody, history-laden Massachusetts countryside. . . . Hoffman’s newest cast of characters is unfailingly magnetic, from her eye-rolling teenagers to her wryly in-love seniors to her suddenly aflame fortysomethings, and the story she tells is as lush as it is suspenseful, as rich in earthy and sensuous detail as it is sweet and hopeful.”

“Hoffman is at her best, chronicling in meticulous and beautiful detail the ways the three Sparrow women are transformed . . . The characters are richly drawn, each idiosyncratically real and yet each just a bit of a sorceress.”
Book magazine (four stars)

“Full-bodied, wholly absorbing characters . . . Hoffman’s storytelling is as spellbinding as ever.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Spellbinding . . . Of all the magical realists writing today, she may have the best sense of balance.”
Portland Oregonian

“Filled with vivid . . . characters and cinematic descriptions of New England landscapes, this book will be a hit.”
Library Journal

“[A] lyrical, magic-infused work . . . Another witches’ brew of ethereal characters [and] lush settings.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Delicious . . . Like a piece of old-fashioned chocolate cake, Hoffman’s novel feeds a craving.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Delicious . . . Hoffman is an unapologetic optimist, and optimism is in short supply these days. It feels like a vacation to curl up with this fairy tale suffused with the ‘filmy green light’ of spring, smelling of ‘wild ginger and lake water,’ its sweetness balanced by deft touches of the Gothic.”
The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469295008
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 5/7/2013
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Sales rank: 538,467
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 5.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Alice  Hoffman
Alice Hoffman is the bestselling author of nearly twenty acclaimed novels beloved by teens and adults, including Aquamarine and Practical Magic, both made into major motion pictures, as well as The Foretelling, Green Angel, The Ice Queen, and Here on Earth (an Oprah Book Club selection). She has also written the highly praised story collections Local Girls and Blackbird House. The author lives outside of Boston.
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    1. Hometown:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 16, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Adelphi University, 1973; M.A., Stanford University, 1974
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

I. Anyone born and bred in Massachusetts learns early on to recognize the end of winter. Babies in their cribs point to the brightening of the sky before they can crawl. Level-headed men weep at the first call of the warblers. Upstanding women strip off their clothes and dive into inlets and ponds before the ice has fully melted, unconcerned if their fingers and toes turn blue. Spring fever affects young and old alike; it spares no one and makes no distinctions, striking when happiness is least expected, when joy is only a memory, when the skies are still cloudy and snow is still piled onto the cold, hard ground.
Who could blame the citizens of Massachusetts for rejoicing when spring is so close at hand? Winter in New England is merciless and cruel, a season that instills a particular melancholy in its residents and a hopelessness that is all but impossible to shake. In the small towns surrounding Boston, the leaden skies and snowy vistas cause a temporary color blindness, a condition that can be cured only by the appearance of the first green shoots of spring. It isn't unusual for whole populations of certain towns to find they have tears in their eyes all through the month of March, and there are those who insist they can see clearly for the very first time.
Still, there are some who are slower to discern the signs of spring. They distrust March and declare it to be the most perilous time of the year. These are the stubborn individuals who continue to wear woolen coats on the finest of days, who insist it is impossible to tell the difference between a carpet of snowdrops and a stretch of ice in this slippery season, even with twenty-twenty vision. Such peoplecannot be convinced that lions will ever be turned into lambs. In their opinion, anyone born in March is sure to possess curious traits that mirror the fickle season, hot one minute, cold the next. Unreliable is March's middle name, no one could deny that. Its children are said to be just as unpredictable.
In some cases, this is assuredly true. For as long as their history has been known, there have been only girl children born to the Sparrow family and every one of these daughters has kept the family name and celebrated her birthday in March. Even those babies whose due dates were declared to be safely set within the snowy margins of February or the pale reaches of April managed to be born in March. No matter when an infant was due to arrive, as soon as the first snowdrops bloomed in New England, a Sparrow baby would begin to stir. Once leaves began to bud, once the Blue Star crocus unfolded, the womb could no longer contain one of these children, not when spring fever was so very near.
And yet Sparrow babies were as varied as the days of March. Some were calm and wide-eyed, born with open hands, always the sign of a generous nature, while others arrived squalling and agitated, so full of outrage they were quickly bundled into blue blankets, to ward off nervous ailments and apoplexy. There were babies in the Sparrow family who had been born while big, soft snowflakes fell and Boston Harbor froze solid, and those whose births took place on the mildest of days, so that they drew their first breaths while the robins built nests out of straw and twigs and the red maples blushed with a first blooming.
But whether the season had been fair or foul, in all this time there had been only one baby to be born feet first, the mark of a healer, and that child was Stella Sparrow Avery. For thirteen generations, each one of the Sparrow girls had come into this world with inky hair and dark, moody eyes, but Stella was pale, her ashy hair and hazel eyes inherited, the labor nurses supposed, from her handsome father's side of the family. Hers was a difficult birth, life-threatening for both mother and child. Every attempt to turn the baby had failed, and soon enough the doctors had begun to dread the outcome of the day. The mother, Jenny Avery, an independent, matter-of-fact woman, who had run away from home at seventeen and was as unsentimental as she was self-reliant, found herself screaming for her mother. That she should cry for her mother, who had been so distant and cold, whom she hadn't even spoken to in more than a decade, astounded Jenny even more than the rigors of birth. It was a wonder her mother wasn't able to hear her, for although Elinor Sparrow was nearly fifty miles from Boston, Jenny's cries were piercing, desperate enough to reach even the most remote and hard-hearted. Women on the ward who had just begun their labor stuck their fingers in their ears and practiced their breathing techniques, praying for an easier time. Orderlies wished they were home in bed, with the covers drawn up. Patients in the cardiac unit felt their hearts race, and down in the cafeteria the lemon puddings curdled and had to be thrown away.
At last the child arrived, after seventeen hours of brutal labor. The obstetrician in charge snapped one tiny shoulder to ease the birth, for the mother's pulse was rapidly dropping. It was at this very moment, when the baby's head slipped free and Jenny Avery thought she might lose consciousness, that the cloudy sky cleared to reveal the silvery splash of the Milky Way, the heart of the universe. Jenny blinked in the sudden light which poured in through the window. She saw how beautiful the world was, as though for the very first time. The bowl of stars, the black night, the life of her child, all came together in a single band of light.
Jenny hadn't particularly wanted a baby; she hadn't yearned for one the way some women did, hadn't gazed longingly at rocking horses and cribs. Her stormy relationship with her own mother had made her wary of family ties, and her marriage to Will Avery, surely one of the most irresponsible men in New England, hadn't seemed the proper setting in which to raise a child. And yet it had happened: this baby had arrived on a starry night in March, the month of the Sparrows, season of snow and of spring, of lions and lambs, of endings and beginnings, green month, white month, month of heartache, month of extreme good luck.
The infant's first cries weren't heard until she was tucked into a flannel bunting; then little yelps echoed from her tiny mouth, as though she were a cat caught in a puddle. The baby was easily soothed, just a pat or two on the back from the doctor, but it was too late: her cries had gone right through Jenny, a hook piercing through blood and bones. Jenny Sparrow Avery was no longer aware of her husband, or the nurses with whom he was flirting. She didn't care about the blood on the floor or the trembling in her legs or even the Milky Way above them in the sky. Her eyes were filled with dizzying circles of light, little pinpricks that glimmered inside her eyelids. It wasn't starlight, but something else entirely. Something she couldn't comprehend until the doctor handed her the child, the damaged left shoulder taped up with white adhesive as though it were a broken wing. Jenny gazed into her child's calm face. In that instant she experienced complete devotion. Then and there, on the fifth floor of Brigham and Women's Hospital, she understood what it meant to be blinded by love.
The labor nurses soon crowded around, cooing and praising the baby. Although they had seen hundreds of births, this child was indeed exceptional. It wasn't her pale hair or luminous complexion which distinguished her, but her sweet temperament. Good as gold, the nurses murmured approvingly, quiet as ashes. Even the most jaded had to agree this child was special. Perhaps her character was a result of her birth date, for Jenny's daughter had arrived on the twentieth of March, the equinox, when day and night are of equal length. Indeed, in one tiny, exhausted body, there seemed to exist all of March's traits, the evens and the odds, the dark and the light, a child who would always be as comfortable with lions as she was with lambs.
Jenny named the baby Stella, with Will's approval, of course. For despite the many problems in the marriage, on this one point they agreed: this child was their radiant and wondrous star. There was nothing Jenny would not do for their daughter. She, who had not spoken to her own mother for years, who had not so much as mailed a postcard back home after she'd run off with Will, now felt powerless to resist the mighty forces of her own maternal instinct. She was bewitched by this tiny creature; the rest of the world fell away with a shudder, leaving only their Stella. Jenny's child would not spend a single night apart from her. Even in the hospital she kept Stella by her side rather than let her be brought to the nursery. Jenny Sparrow Avery knew exactly what could happen if you weren't there to watch over your child. She was quite aware of how wrong things could go between mothers and daughters.
Not everyone was doomed to repeat history, however. Family flaws and old sorrows needn't rule their lives, or so Jenny told herself every night as she checked on her sleeping daughter. What was the past, after all, but a leaden shackle one had a duty to try and escape? It was possible to break chains, regardless of how old or how rusted, of that Jenny was certain. It was possible to forge an entirely new life. But chains made out of blood and memory were a thousand times more difficult to sever than those made of steel, and the past could overtake a person if she wasn't careful. A woman had to be vigilant or before she knew it she'd find herself making the same mistakes her own mother had made, with the same resentments set to boil.
Jenny was not about to let herself relax or take the slightest bit of good fortune for granted. There wasn't a day when she wasn't on guard. Let other mothers chat on the phone and hire baby-sitters; let them sit on blankets in the Boston Common on sunny days and on blustery afternoons make angels in the snow. Jenny didn't have time for such nonsense. She had only thirteen years in which to prevail over her family's legacy, and she planned to do exactly that, no matter the cost to herself.
In no time she became the sort of mother who made certain no drafts came in through the windows, who saw to it that there were no late-night bedtimes or playing in the park on rainy days, a sure cause of bronchitis and pleurisy. Cats were not allowed in the house, too much dander; dogs were avoided, due to distemper, not to mention allergies and fleas. It did not matter if Jenny took a job she despised at the bank on Charles Street or if her social life was nonexistent. Friends might fall away, acquintances might come to avoid her, her days of reviewing mortgage applications might bore her silly, but Jenny hardly cared about such distractions. Her only interest was Stella. She spent Saturdays chopping up broccoli and kale for nourishing soups; she sat up nights with Stella's earaches, stomachaches, bouts of chicken pox and flu. She laced boots and went over lessons, and she never once complained. Disappointments, fair-weather friends, math homework, illnesses of every variety were dealt with and put in their proper place. And if Stella grew up to be a wary, rather dour girl, well, wasn't that preferable to running wild the way Jenny had? Wasn't it better to be safe than sorry? Selfish pleasures dissolved the way dreams did, Jenny knew that for certain, leaving behind nothing more than an imprint on the pillowcase, a hole in your heart, a list of regrets so long you could wrap them around yourself like a quilt, one formed from a complicated pattern, Love knot or Dove in the window or Crow's-foot.
Soon enough, Jenny's marriage to Will Avery fell apart, unwound by mistrust and dishonesty, one thread and one betrayal at a time. For quite a while there had been nothing holding these two together but a shared history, the mere fact that they'd grown up together and had been childhood sweethearts. If anything, they stayed together longer than they might have merely for the sake of their daughter, their Stella, their star. But children can tell when love has been lost, they know when silence means peace and when it's a sign of despair. Jenny tried not to think what her mother might say if she knew how badly their marriage had ended. How self-righteous Elinor Sparrow would be if she ever found out that Will, for whom Jenny had given up so much, now lived in his own apartment on the far end of Marlborough Street, where at last he was free to do as he pleased, not that he hadn't done so all along.
That Will was unfaithful should have been evident: whenever he lied, white spots appeared on his fingernails, and each time he was with another woman, he developed what Jenny's mother had called "liar's cough," a constant hacking, a reminder that he'd swallowed the truth whole. Every time Will came back to Jenny, he swore he was a changed man, but he had remained the same person he'd been at the age of sixteen, when Jenny had first spied him from her bedroom window, out on the lawn. The boy who had always looked for trouble didn't have to search for it after a while: it found him no matter where he was, day or night. It followed him home and slipped under the door and lay down beside him. All the same, Will Avery had never presented himself as anything other than the unreliable individual that he was. He'd never claimed to have a conscience. Never claimed anything at all. It was Jenny who had insisted she couldn't live without him. Jenny who forgave him, who was desperate for one of his dreams, one that would remind her of the reason she fell in love with him in the first place.
Indeed, if Elinor Sparrow found out they had broken up, she certainly would not have been surprised. She had correctly judged Will Avery to be a liar the moment she met him. She knew him for what he was at first sight. That was her talent, after all. One sentence and she knew. One shrug of the shoulders. One false excuse. She had marched Will Avery right out of the house when she found him lurking in the parlor, and she'd never let him return, not even when Jenny begged her to reconsider. She refused to change her opinion. Elinor was still referring to him as The Liar on the brilliant afternoon when Jenny left home. It was the spring of Jenny's senior year of high school, that feverish season when rash decisions were easily made. By the time Jenny Sparrow's classmates had been to the prom and were getting ready for graduation, Jenny was working in Bailey's Ice Cream Parlor in Cambridge, supporting Will while he managed to ruin his academic career with hardly any effort. Effort, on the other hand, was all Jenny seemed to possess. She washed dishes after a full day of work; she toted laundry to the Wash and Dri on Saturdays. At eighteen, she was a high school dropout and the perfect wife, exhausted, too busy for anything like regret. After a while her life in her hometown of Unity seemed like a dream: the common across from the meetinghouse where the war memorials stood, the linden trees, the smell of the laurel, so spicy just before blooming, the way everything turned green, all at once, as though winter itself was a dream, a fleeting nightmare made up of ice and heartlessness and sorrow.

Copyright© 2003 by Alice Hoffman

Author Biography:

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Alice Hoffman

Jennifer Morgan Gray is a writer and editor who lives in New York City.

Jennifer Morgan Gray: The title The Probable Future has many possible meanings. What did you hope to convey about the permanence—and changeability—of destiny by choosing this title? Were there any others you considered and then discarded during the writing process?

Alice Hoffman: Finding the right title is much like being givena gift. The title arrived during the writing of the novel. I realized in the process that "seeing the future" is impossible. There are thousands of possible futures all dependent on
choice and circumstance.

JMG: Did you begin the novel with a particular image, situation, or idea in mind? Or was there one character in particular that sparked your imagination for this book?

AH: The novel began with the image of a young girl who awakes on her thirteenth birthday with a "gift"—the ability to see the way some people will die. The impact of such a gift interested me. I wrote the novel after a period in which I lost many people I loved, including my mother, and I was trying to make some sense out of how unpredictable life and death are.

JMG: I was struck by the significance of names in the book, including Stella, Sparrow, and Unity, to name just a few. Did you write the book with these names already in place, or did you choose them later as the story unfolded?

AH: Names most often come with the character for me. If I ever have to change a name for any reason (repetition, another character in another book with the same name) I'mcompletely thrown—it's almost as if characters are "born" with their names.

JMG: The town of Unity is as vivid a character as any of the people in the story. Did you base Unity on an actual town, or was it in some ways an amalgam of what a small New England town should be? In which ways is it idyllic? What flaws does it possess?

AH: The town of Unity was named in much the same way as the characters—it arrived along with the place—and of course it is ironic, as the town is torn in two. There is an official history and an unofficial history. One excludes the contributions
of women, such as the Sparrows. That's the history I'm interested in.

JMG: Many of your novels are rooted in the tradition of magic. In writing The Probable Future, how did you manage to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but still make the plot events seem plausible? How do you trust your readers to
make that leap and still identify with—and relate to—your characters?

AH: I feel that the tradition of literature, of storytelling, is rooted in magic. Realism seems to me a newer, less interesting tradition. I grew up reading fairy tales, science fiction, fantasy. As far as making the leap to belief, as soon as a reader opens a
book he or she must suspend belief—marks on paper become a real world. The next leap, to identify and relate with fantastical occurrences, seems easy to me. The sort of magic I write about is that which is rooted in the real world—the probable and the possible.

JMG: Stella veers from being a recalcitrant thirteen-year-old to a young woman who is wise far beyond her years. How did you strike that balance in evoking her personality, and how did writing her character pose a challenge? Why do you think that many people in Unity are drawn to her, despite her troubled past and notorious family history?

AH: I've always felt that adolescence is what makes the person. That time is the most intense, the most difficult, the most amazing time in a person's life. In the beginning of the novel Stella is a child; by the end we can see the woman she will
become. I think we are drawn to her because she's true to herself, she's fearless in an emotional sense.

JMG: This story is told from many points of view. What made you decide to employ this method? Who do you feel is the most reliable narrator of the story? Is there one person who you feel forms the "heart" of The Probable Future?

AH: I'm not sure the writer chooses the story. I think it's more that the story chooses the writer. I think the heart of The Probable Future comes in thirteen parts—all of the Sparrow women. Because the novel is the story of a town, there are many points of view, all of which flow together into one history.

JMG: It has "additions added on like frosting," you write of Cake House. This statement also could be a description of the multilayered aspects of the novel. Did you envision Cake House as a physical embodiment of the novel's shape while
you were writing? How does the house function as a symbol— both good and bad—to the Sparrow women and to the inhabitants of Unity?

AH: I think Cake House is symbolic of history and the way history is told. Story upon story, fact upon fact. The novel is an "anti-history," if you will, taking history apart and examining the pieces that make up the town of Unity's past.

JMG: A theme that threads through the book is the strong links of family—and how those bonds can be created by more than blood ties alone. Was there one relationship that you found the most compelling to create? Which was the most
frustrating to write?

AH: Because I began the book soon after my mother died, I was thinking about the complicated and amazing relationship between mother and daughter. It seemed to me that motherdaughter relationships are in constant motion—the way you feel about your mother at sixteen can be radically different from the way you feel about
her at sixty. I was always interested in the importance of grandmothers
and how they enrich one's life. I was extremely close with my grandmother Lillie. She was the intermediary between me and my mother for many years, and I think girls often feel close to their grandmothers in a way they can't in a mother-daughter relationship. There's a freedom, an easing up, a friendship. Those of us who have or had such relationships with a grandmother know how lucky we

JMG: In interviews, you've said that your own experiences with illness affected your rendering of Elinor and her battle with cancer. How did your own experience shape her character? How does Elinor learn to live with illness? In which ways does being sick open her mind and her heart, especially in her relationships with her family and with Brock Stewart?

AH: I feel that illness can define you. In illness one has the opportunity to try to spend the rest of one's life as the person he or she wants to become. Sometimes, of course, this isn't possible—pain, circumstance, violence can be forced upon someone. But sometimes it is possible to let your illness lead you to an understanding of the world you didn't have, and couldn't have, before your illness. I think my experiences with those I loved in times of dire illness and dying, although filled with sorrow and pain, have been the experiences that have taught me the most about what it means to be human. As for my own illness, as a breast cancer survivor I have met amazing women, those who survived and those who didn't, who have enriched my life in ways I could not have imagined. I'm in awe of these women, including many of my readers whom I've met when on book tours. The character of Elinor revealed her illness to me during my writing of the book, and I think she saw her dying as a chance to right some of the wrongs in her life, to throw off pride and ego, and get to the heart of her life: those she loved. Her family and friends.

JMG: This book is steeped in history, especially that of Unity itself. Did the story of the town come first, or did the tales of the present-day characters? Along the same lines, how did you create the history of the thirteen generations of Sparrow
women, and that of Rebecca Sparrow in particular? Did you extensively research the era of the Salem witch trials in order to effectively convey her story?

AH: Stella Sparrow came to me first, in the here and now. But no character comes unencumbered by a personal history— just as no person does. The ghosts we carry with us, the ideas and experience of our ancestors, reverberate in the present. The theme of witches and witchcraft for me often has more to do with women's history than with spells and magic. That women have drawn strength from controlling health—medical issues, birth issues—has also made them threatening. The same is true for "witches"—strong women in touch with the natural world. Women who can't be controlled are often viewed as dangerous. I always find it amusing to see, even still, how many little girls dress up as witches on Halloween. There's a pull to "our" history: brave, mysterious, powerful.

JMG: Each of the Sparrow women becomes embroiled in a romance of sorts that she wouldn't normally have considered. How do the men who surround Elinor, Jenny, and Stella—including Will, Matt, Brock, Jimmy, and Hap—act as foils to
them? How do they complement them? How does the women's choice of men affect their evolution as characters? Or do you think that they really have a choice in the matter?

AH: I thought of The Probable Future as my own version of A Midsummer Night's Dream—everyone is with the "wrong" person, who at first seemed "right." The mystery of love, who you fall in love with, and why, is endlessly fascinating. I think behind all these pairings in The Probable Future is the sense that love is not only blind, it's dumb! The choices you make can be based on what you"think" you should want, who you "think" you should be. That's what some of the characters in the novel discover, thankfully, before it's too late.

JMG: At the end of the novel, Jenny and Stella are grappling with death, yet they seem both truly alive and in tune with each other. Did you picture this hopeful conclusion from the outset? How do you envision their continued development,
both in relation to the outside world and to one another?

AH:When I begin a novel I don't predict a conclusion. That isthe fun of fiction for me—the journey of discovering who the characters are and how their lives will turn out. They often surprise me and start to make their own decisions. That's how I know the writing is going well. But I do think that by the end of the novel Stella and her mother, Jenny, are amazed to find that they can view each other as "people," not just as extensions of one another as "mother" or "daughter" but as complex and fascinating women.

JMG: Is there a particular subject or topic that's currently piquing your interest and imagination? What can readers look forward to reading next from you?

AH: I've just finished Blackbird House, interrelated fictions that all take place in the same house at the edge of Cape Cod from the late 1700s until the present. I have a little farm out on the Cape, which people said was haunted. In fact it stood empty and abandoned for several years, perhaps because of this. In my fiction, houses are often characters—they matter, they define the action and the people who live inside them. I realized that houses are indeed haunted—by their own pasts, by the lives that have been led in the same rooms you now live in, by the stories left behind. So I invented a history for my house. It was great fun for me to write and, in the end,
I love and appreciate my house even more than I did before.
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Reading Group Guide

1. Each of the Sparrow women has a secret view into the lives of others—Stella sees their deaths, Elinor their falsehoods, and Jenny their dreams. In which ways do these attributes make the women more perceptive to those around them? How does this paranormal ability insulate and isolate them? Who adjusts the best to using her gift to accomplish something good, and how does she do so?

2. In which ways does Jenny’s extreme overprotectiveness of her daughter cause a rift in their relationship? Do you think the two will be closer as time wears on? Why is Stella so much tougher on her mother than on her father? How is Will affected by Stella’s unadulterated devotion to him?

3. Why does Stella ally herself with Will? In which ways is he a devoted father, and how is he lacking as a parental role model? What characteristics does Will share with Jimmy?

4. How do you account for the estrangement between Elinor and Jenny? How does the stubbornness of each woman expand the breach between them? How does Stella act as a bridge between her warring mother and grandmother?

5. The three generations of Sparrow women all are drawn to men with problems, both hidden and visible. Is this always true in love? Is every relationship fraught with problems, hidden or otherwise? Can you think of other works of fiction in which everyone is in love with the “wrong” person or where the “wrong” person turns out to in fact be “right”?

6. How does love transform characters in the novel? Which evolution was the most surprising to you?

7. The season of spring is a tangible presence in the novel. How is it a harbinger of change, and how does it pose a turning point for Stella in particular? How is it a symbol of renewal in the book, but also of death?

8. What about Elinor is so compelling to Brock Stewart? How does she feel about him? Why does Brock feel that he has let Elinor down? Would you classify their relationship as romantic, friendship, or something in the middle? Why?

9. What message does the book convey about history? There seems to be an official and an unofficial history. Matt is interested in the “unofficial history”—the history of the women in town and their effects on the fabric of their society. What part of history is written with “invisible ink”? Which groups are most forgotten in the official history of our country? Why is it important to note that all of the monuments on the town green of Unity honor men and those who have fought in wars?

10. “For the first time, she didn’t want anyone’s opinion but her own,” Stella thinks when she doesn’t ask for her best friend’s opinion about Jimmy. How is this a significant moment in the development of Stella’s independence? In what ways does Stella rely on Juliet, both for guidance and support? In friendships, as in love, do opposites often attract? Why do you think this is so?

11. How does Liza evolve from a “plain girl” into the woman Will falls in love with? In which ways does she act as a mother figure to Stella? What ultimately draws Will to her, and how does her advice and guidance change him? How does Liza’s past loss—her own history—affect the person she ultimately becomes?

12. In which ways are Matt and Will similar? How are they different? How does each react to being his “brother’s keeper”— both figuratively and literally? How does their affiliation with the Sparrows shape them, for better or for worse? Do you think both of them love Jenny? Why or why not? Who do you think is the right man for Jenny? Do you believe there is one true love for each of us or that circumstances dictate whom a person loves?

13. Throughout the history of the town, the Sparrow women have changed the lives of others—often unnoticed. What changes did you as a reader see?

14. Why does Elinor leave Cake House to her daughter Jenny, instead of to someone else? Is the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter often less fraught than that between mother and daughter? Was this true for you? Do you think that Jenny has made peace with her childhood home by the end of the novel? More important, has she made peace with her mother?

15. Why is building a memorial to Rebecca Sparrow so important to Stella? What does Rebecca symbolize to the town of Unity at the opening of the book? Has that conception changed by the conclusion of the novel? How does Stella’s acceptance of her family history contribute to that shift, both in the minds of her family and to the outside world? What is the place of the witch in history? What does it signify for women about their own place in society?

16. Juliet often mentions that each person has a “best feature.” In your view, what are the best features of the main characters? Are they always aware of what their best feature is, or do they often long to be other than they are?

17. Is there a sense of magic in The Probable Future? Do the gifts of the Sparrow women seem magical? Is a “gift” often a “curse”? Does what brings you the most pleasure often bring the most pain as well? What do you believe is the greatest gift a person can have? What is the connection between love and magic?

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Customer Reviews

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( 43 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2012

    Amazing, absolutley amazing.

    Oh my goodness, this book is one of the best ever written! I simply couldnt put it down. The story draaws you in with a beatiful lesson of life and love, with a twist of magic. I would recomend this to anyone looking fir a good read and a wonderful literature experience.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2009

    This book is simply amazing.

    I would most definitely recommend this book to any avid reader. I don't believe those who like to read simplistic books would enjoy this quite like I. However, for those who love to read a short, yet sensual books, I would most definitely suggest this to be on your must read list.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2009

    Satisfying read, brought me into the story.

    Great writing, very much mike practical magic to me. Alice Hoffman brings my senses to life with her vivid storytelling and amazing characters. I really feel as though I am there, inside the story.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    Loved this book, exquisitely written, moving story with complica

    Loved this book, exquisitely written, moving story with complicated people (and aren't we all) as characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2013


    Frst third of book showed promise but then turned into sappy love story. Never developed into a "real page turner". Very disappointing.

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  • Posted April 19, 2009

    More beautiful, magical perspectives on life and love!

    Alice Hoffman is my favorite writer, and this is another wonderful book by her. Although the writer does use magical, unrealistic, "fairy tale" touches throughout her stories, her basic themes about life, love,relationships, disappointments, hope,etc. are all very realistic and universal. This book dealt with disappointments, facing life mistakes,erroneous preconceptions, second chances,lost love, new love,moving on. Some characters you liked, some you did not, and all major characters had both good and not so good qualities... just like life. Beautifully written!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 19, 2009

    Struggled to finish it

    In fact, I skimmed the last 100 pages. I just kept hoping that something touching or exciting would happen, as Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors. But this book was just plain boring, and it went on and on and on repeating the same things over and over again as if the readers somehow hadn't quite gotten it the first ten times they read it. ''Illumination Night'' remains my favorite.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2008

    Boring Characters, Boring Story...

    I've never read an Alice Hoffman book before, and I'm not impressed. This book was recommended after I read Garden Spells, which I loved, however this book was just boring to me. I was bored from the beginning when it took about 10 pages to discuss the month of March. It picked up some, but a long stretch in the middle was boring. It got better toward the end, but only because it was wrapping up. I may try another Hoffman book, but not for awhile. And I had such high hopes for this one, too! Sorry, gang, this was just too slow and boring for me.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2006

    Nice, Pleasant Read!

    My book club read this and I enjoyed it, finishing in a week or so. The only problem was how inappropriate it was, although it was not intendded for YA. I did enjoy it, and loved the skilled writing

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2006

    LOVED IT!!!

    this was an amazing book!! i couldnt put it down! the characters draw you in and make you feel like your involved with this small town. the part of stellas grandmother was uniquely portrayed. you wanted to hate her, but also help her. you felt this smpathy for stellas mother. if you havent read this, read it now!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2005

    Very good, but not Hoffman's best

    Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed this novel; Hoffman's writing is sheer perfection, as usual, and she's created some fascinating characters. However, it just doesn't measure up to her previous work, such as Practical Magic and Turtle Moon. Yes, The Probable Future offers a healthy dose of magic, set in an idyllic town that seems to revolve around the witchy Sparrow family. But as much as I loved reading Elinor's sage advice and Jenny and Matt's blossomiing (some might say 'incestuous) love, I've got to say that it sort of falls short of being 'fantastic'. I feel like part of the issue is Stella. Now, I'm not saying that all protaganists have to be sunshine and rainbows all the time, but Stella was just downright ANNOYING. I found her to be irrationably two-faced. If she wasn't whining about her 'awful' mother (who did NOTHING wrong!) and singing her father's praises, she was turning around and acting noble and mature. I found her behavior erratic and downright stupid, and consequently, it ruined the book for me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2004

    A Pleasant Surprise

    My book club chose this book, and I wasn't too happy about it. After reading the summary, I just wasn't intrigued. But I really enjoyed it. I never wanted to put it down. It's filled with interesting characters, creative plot lines, and sophisticated writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2004

    Alice Hoffman is a literary goddess!!!

    Once again Alice Hoffman has shown her breathtaking capacity to weave a network of extraordinary individuals together with delicacy and daring. So beautifully written and imaginatively thought out, The Probable Future follows in the fottsteps of so many others in carrying the reader away to a wonderful world where anything becomes possible. Truly well done.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2004

    very good

    This book was very interesting and well paced, although it took me longer to read this than most books. I will probably read her other books as well!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2004

    A truly thought provoking, well developed book!

    Alice Hoffman's ability to reflect the magic in relationships and nature profoundly touched my vision of the world. Her understanding of the the conflicts of mother daughter relationships, her ability to portray the connection between nature and man and her depth of character development makes this read a must for the psychologicallly curious.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2003

    Hoffman's Back to Magical Tricks

    It took me a good while to get into this novel, to find the hook, as it were. In that regard I found The Probable Future to be less satisfying than, say, Practical Magic, which sprung out on all fours immediately. That said, I found that once I reached the portion of the novel that pulled together all the elements of the multi-generational magic, where thirteen year-old Stella discovers the meaning of her newly found gift, the characters came to life in a most satisfying way. The Probable Future weaves the strands of magic and history and the truest of loves to a poignant and memorable conclusion where the symbols of buzzing bees and of fragrant spring air pique the reader's sense of wonder at things both seen and unseen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2003

    One of Hoffman's best

    I think this is her best book since Practical Magic. It's well written, very readable. I'm glad to see her writing what I believe is referred to as 'magical realism' again. One reviewer recommended it as a mystery; it 'sort of' is, but most of the focus is on the characters and the magic that plays out in everyday life, in history, in relationships.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2003

    The Probable Future is Definite Magic

    This spellbinding tale will take you upon a magical ride through the lives of the Sparrow family. If you are a Hoffman fan, this is sure to become one of your favorites.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2003

    Hoffman does it again

    As a die hard Hoffman fan I am beside myself after reading her latest novel. As usual I am sad it is over, but I must admit it has been a few years since I have flipped back to the beginning and started all over again the second I was finished. I loved this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2003

    the best of 2003

    This novel is the greatest. If you love mysteries and suspence, this one is for you!!! It's very intriguing, so check it out.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews

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