9 Mar 2012

Review: "Seventh Heaven" by Alice Hoffman

I can't remember the first time I read "Seventh Heaven" by Alice Hoffman but I have a feeling that it must be approximately 13 years ago. It was definitely when I was in my early teens and I loved loved loved Alice Hoffman. She was my favourite writer. Every week I would go to the school library or convince my parents to take me to the library in our village and the best days were when I borrowed an Alice Hoffman novel. 
Alice Hoffman does magical small-town America in a way that no other writer can. She imbues the small everyday things with a magical, beautiful qualities and remind us that even the most ordinary things are sometimes more magical than what we call miracles.

"Seventh Heaven" was one of my favourite books at the time and the other day I decided to revisit it and see if the magic would still work on me and it did. Though I was not as enthralled as I was when I first read it, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story. 

"Seventh Heaven" takes place over a year from the summer of 1959 to the summer of 1960 and this timing has been chosen for a reason - it symbolizes the end of an era and the arrival of a new time. 
Nora Silk is a divorcee and single mother of baby James and eight-year-old Billy. She has been left by her charlatan of a husband and in an attempt to give her boys a stable, traditional, middle class upbringing, she moves from New York to the New Jersey suburbs to a newly built neighborhood. This is small-town America in the 1950s, full of white picket fences, newly mowed lawns, kids with clean teeth and ironed clothes and mothers who cook, clean and gossip. To them, the newcomer is a disturbance, an unwelcome interruption in the Stepford Wives-ish, surburban paradise so of course they shun her. Nora's insistence on fitting in, her attempts at making friends and making Billy part of the community are all in vain as she is increasingly isolated by her cold neighbors. 

The turning point comes when Nora begins to remember her roots and stops attempting to be like the other women, when she recalls the wisdoms of her grandfather, things start to change. Not only for Nora but also for the people around her. The prom-queen-wannabe Rickie Shapiro and her valedictorian-to-be brother; Jackie McCarthy the bad boy and aspiring criminal; Donna Durgins overweight and unhappy housewife and not least policemen Joe Hennessy and schoolboy Ace McCarthy. 
Their lives weave in and out of each and they are all changed by the magic Silk family just as Nora and her children are changing as they adjust to life in suburbia.

Read it if: You are nostalgic after 1950s, headbands and white picket fences. You grew up in suburbia. You like the movie "American Beauty". 

1 comment:

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