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 vivid and intriguing cast of characters confronts a haunting past—and a very current murder—against the evocative backdrop of small-town New England. By turns chilling and enchanting, The Probable Future chronicles the Sparrows’s 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.
Poignant, arresting, unsettling, The Probable Future showcases the lavish literary gifts that have made Alice Hoffman one of America’s most treasured writers.
Praise for The Probable Future
“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
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.23(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Date of Birth:March 16, 1952
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., Adelphi University, 1973; M.A., Stanford University, 1974
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 people cannot 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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?
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Loved this book, exquisitely written, moving story with complicated people (and aren't we all) as characters.
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.
I'm a big fan of Alice Hoffman and this was interesting book to listen to. Generation sof the Sparrow women. Elinor is old and lives in the the cake house, Jenny is her daugh and then her daugh. Stella knows of a murderer. There's the lying husband Will, and his great bro. Matt. There are other cute characters who enliven the story. There are loves between the many.
A well written book about the relationships between Mothers and daughters and choices made in life. The Sparrow women, starting with Rebecca 300 years ago, who was drowned for possibly being a witch, have always had a special ability that comes to them on their 13th birthday... from feeling no pin, being able to tell if someone is lying, or seeing how someone will die. Add to this the typical prickliness of the relationship between mothers and teenage daughters, sprinkle in some teenage boys and men and you have a compelling story that leaves you soothed and contemplative in the end.
This was another magical story from Hoffman. Here we meet the Sparrow women - women who wake up on their thirteenth birthday and realize they have special gifts. These gifts can be anything: the ability to not feel pain, the ability to know if someone is lying, to dream other people's dreams.Stella Sparrow is the youngest Sparrow and her ability is to see how a person will die. It is, quite obviously, very frightening for her and she desperately wants to help a woman that she believes will be brutally murdered. She begs her father to help the woman - but when the woman's body is found, Stella's father is the prime suspect. Stella moves in with her grandmother in order to protect her from the media frenzy that her father's imprisonment creates and she learns of her ancestry and the incredible Sparrow women. It's hard to describe all of the intricacies of the characters - there are many people that we meet and they are all so important in the lives of those around them. It was just another great, moving book by Hoffman - I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a little magic in their lives and loves to read about women triumphing over their pasts and looking forward to wonderful futures.
The Probable Future by, Alice HoffmanFrom the back cover-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 to the future-a future she might not want to see. When Stella¿s premonitions puts her father in jail, wrongly accused of homicide.This is a story of magical realism and 3 generations of women trying to handle the legacy of the Sparrow family and their own relationships with each other.This is my first Alice Hoffman book after hearing so much about this author. I really enjoyed this story and the character development. This is a character driven book, yes, there is the whole dad in jail story line but it is not the main story.The main story is about these generations of Sparrow women and how things that happened years ago to their ancestors can have an effect all those years later. I did enjoy this book and plan on reading more by this author!I would recommend this to anyone who likes magical realism or character driven storylines.3 ½ Stars
I really liked this story that weaves so much together. It's about three generations of Sparrow women, Elinor, her estranged daughter Jenny and her daughter Stella, who as the novel opens celebrates her thirteenth birthday. On that day, as it's been for 13 generations, the women of the family gain a gift and a burden. Elinor can smell lies--literally. Jenny can dream the dreams of others. Stella has a much more ominous gift--she can see others' deaths. This isn't quite fantasy. It's closer to what might be called magical realism, where everyday, real life is infused with magic. It's a genre I'm not always in tune with. I hated the Isabelle Allende novel I tried. There the magical aspects seemed to me affected and intrusive, as if she was saying "Hi! I can speak Borges!" Hoffman writes as if magic is her native language. And I find it woven not just in the fantastical but even in her use of scientific fact, such as telling us that "a cloud is a floating lake." Or close observation of nature from an oak tree to roses to bees. It's the characters that really make it special. And not just the three women--but minor characters such as Liz Hull or Juliet Aronson. And not just in what endears, but the flaws of so many of the characters, Jenny's tendency to run away, Will's fecklessness and Matt's tendency to drift--for me anyway--often hit close to home. As do the mother/daughter relationships in this story. The town of Unity, Massachusetts is a major character too, with it's own history and redemptive arc. Even a dog, Elinor's wolfhound Argus, is lovingly drawn.Mind you, even as far as half-way, I wasn't too impressed. Oh, the prose draws you in and is strong from the beginning. Hoffman weaves a masterful omniscient narrative with lyrical, even poetic prose. My problem was that this is my second Hoffman novel. My first was Practical Magic, which I did love. But it also dealt with an old Massachusetts family of strong woman dealing with a powerful history--women of magical powers long reputed in their small town as witches. I thought, man do all her novels tell the same story?By two-thirds through I didn't care much, The way it pulled together past and future, love and death was powerful (even if at times predictable)--and the end was both suspenseful and moving and more than once I felt a lump at my throat. Did things fall together a bit too neatly? Maybe. But reading this book was definitely good for the heart.
Although Hoffman's "Practical Magic" is most likely her most famous novel, it was "The Probable Future" that is easily my favorite novel my this skillful author. In this book, we find a young and rebellious teenager trying to discover her own identity by learning about the generations of "Sparrow" women that came before her. Rebecca Sparrow was considered a witch, Eleanor Sparrow can spot liars, Jenny Sparrow is harrowed by the dreams of others, and Stella Sparrow views people dying before it occurs - each women burdened with her "special gift" at the tender age of thirteen. In this tiny town of Unity, Massachusetts you see the lives of Eleanor, Jenny and Stella bloom magically, and entwine with the history of their ancestor Rebecca. This book will keep you on the edge, for its not just a thrilling read but also a heartwarming one!
I loved this book that explored female relationships within families (against the backdrop of paranormal experiences and small-town murder). Hoffman was able to have the reader care both about the characters and what was happening to them and around them.
This is one of Alice Hoffman's books that is more community-centered than individual-centered. It takes place in the fictitious town of Unity, Massachusetts, and focuses on the lineage of Sparrow women, each of whom has a special talent. I thought this story was a little more slow-paced than most of Hoffman's offerings, but the writing was lovely.
I found this book at a book sale and thought it sounded like a good story. Well, I was wrong. It is a GREAT story! The plot hearkens back to the day when a young girl walks out of the woods and into a colonial New England town. She has the ability to call the birds to her (sparrows) and thus is given the last name of Sparrow. From her untimely death to the present each of her female descendents is given a special ability on her thirteenth birthday. Each one is unique and serves a different purpose. This story centers around Stella who is six generations descended from Rebecca. Stella's unique ability is being able to see how a person will die. This reader followed with keen interest the blend of past and present in an attempt to turn what could be a tragic gift into one that serves a more noble purpose. The characters in this book are well defined and memorable. The setting is pure Massachussets. I enjoyed this book so much that I've gone ahead and purchased five more by Ms. Hoffman.
I really liked this book. I have only read this one and Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. There is something truly magical about her stories. They feel very comfortable.
This is an interesting book - part fairy tale with Anne Tyler overtones. The outcome is anticipated long before the end of the book and all's well that ends well. Shattered relationships are mended, the bad guy gets his comeuppance and everyone ends up with a soulmate. I like this book because it left me with some lingering thoughts, for instance, the grandmother who said that good things are invisible: integrity, kindness and empathy. How true and how worthy of pursuit in thought and deed. I've also given some thought as to what I would select if I had a choice of a "gift" such as the ones bestowed on the Sparrow women when they turned 13. I believe that there is truth that in life, as in this novel, our greatest gift is also our greatest curse.
I agree with another reviewer who said she'd like to hang out w/the Sparrow women & eat at Liza's. Thoroughly enjoyable. Alice Hoffman at her best. I also recommend The River King and The Third Angel to those who enjoy her fiction.
I¿m almost embarrassed to admit that this is my first Alice Hoffman, but what a great book I chose as my introduction to this author. I suppose it¿s what¿s called ¿magic realism,¿ which is a suitable label. The narrative focuses on the long line of Sparrow women, a lineage dating back many generations to Rebecca Sparrow who could feel no pain. All were born in March and all have a gift. Jenny Sparrow can dream other people¿s dreams. Her mother, Elinor, can tell a lie from the truth. And Jenny¿s daughter, Stella, who just turned 13, can see how people die.It¿s Stella¿s newfound talent that provides the emotional thrust of the story, and sets the plot in motion. Out to dinner with her father (a self-absorbed man who is estranged from her mother) to celebrate her birthday, Stella sees the murder of a woman in the restaurant. She tells her father, Will, and insists he do something. Will reports the premonition to the police, not mentioning Stella, and when the woman¿s body is found soon after, he¿s the prime suspect.Estrangement runs through the book, mothers estranged from daughters, and lovers who never found each other. Is what Stella sees inevitable? Or is it a possible future, something that can be changed? Is there hope for Elinor and Jenny to reconcile? For Stella and Jenny to repair their strained relationship? For Jenny to come to terms with Will and for Will¿s brother, Matt, to realize the love he¿s never been able to have? Stella, eager to learn her family history, becomes the catalyst and as secrets about the Sparrow women come to light, the living Sparrow women learn what matters most.Hoffman employs a omniscient narrator who tells as much or more than he or she shows the reader and it took me a while to get used to it. But soon enough, I was absorbed by the Sparrow family and the townspeople of Unity, MA, so much so that I didn¿t want to leave them.Now I need to see what else Hoffman has written that strikes my fancy.
This had an interesting set-up: a family in which the women inherit special abilities on their thirteenth birthdays. Stretching back generations the quirk threw up some interesting scenarios (one of them didn¿t need sleep, one of them couldn¿t feel pain etc etc). Some were a bit naff, I have to say. The one who could dream other people¿s dreams, for example. I would have been tempted to send that one back to the magic shop. So, as the story begins the most recent descendant of the magical line disovers that she can see how other people will ultimately die, and she manages to get her father implicated in a grisly murder. It¿s a good start, and made me want to read on. However, this particular element of the plot becomes more of a side show, with the author concentrating mainly on the dodgy relationship decisions made by her multi-generational characters.It¿s an interesting portrait of small town America - this is an author who does settings very well. On the other hand, I did think from an early stage I could see how things were going to develop, and I was mostly right. A bit too much whimsy and too little foretelling of death I reckon.
Girl inherits a gift on 13th birthday, as does every woman in her family. She must face the consequences of her gift, and bring her family back together again.
I've come to realize that picking up an Alice Hoffman book is a bit of a crap shoot for me. I absolutely loved "The Ice Queen." I positively hated "The River King." "The Probable Future" falls somewhere in the middle. The story gets off to a strong start, spinning a neat premise that follows the Hoffman formula of injecting a magical element into everyday situations. But the book later takes many tedious turns. Even a somewhat suspenseful ending can't save it from mediocrity.
The story of three generations of women who, on their thirteenth birthday, receive a gift or talent. Stella, the youngest, is able to foresee a person's death and in trying to prevent what she sees involves her father, who is then under suspicion of murder. The chain reaction sends all the women back to their small hometown where the legend of their family unfolds.
another great book by one of my favourite authors. I only discovered her about a year ago but I have read 3 of her books and have 2 more which I am looking forward to reading.
Good book. I enjoyed the women but felt the characters could have been developed better. The ending was predictable and seemed a little rushed.
Awesome story, if you like tales of modern day witches...this ones for you.
Hoffman is, as always, a good writer, with brilliant writing and keen psychological and emotional insight into her characters, especially her adolescent ones. This book confirms her strengths, except it's probably a little softer around the edges than most of her other books. Here the central characters are many generations (especially the last 3) of women in a New England family, each of whom discovers at age 13 a special gift, such as the ability to tell when someone is lying, to dream other people's dreams, to see how & when people are going to die. It's a book about discovering one's gifts, and, like the last 4 books I've read, about finding love & seeking (and giving) forgiveness. My only complaint: the magical aspects of this book, which I usually find appealing in Hoffman's books, seemed to occasionally to take this one across the line into sentimentality, even sappiness.