Book Review: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

I was rather lukewarm about Alice Hoffman after I read her Blackbird House. I remember loving the images, her word mastery, but finding the story bleak.

You really must be in the mood to enjoy a bleak story. I was not.

I gave her another chance because I kept hearing The Dovekeepers was spectacular. Oh my, what an amazing story. Epic! Intimate! So very human. I was on top of Masada with the three women the story follows. I watched the Romans set up their camp. Swam in a watery cavern. Raced across a nighttime desert on a horse. Lived the inevitability of the end and the hope of a new beginning.

I almost closed her Faithful at the 20% mark. Before I tell you why and what kept me reading, here’s the summary from Amazon (I really do hate writing summaries):

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Just to be clear, he’s not a real angel.

So, I nearly closed the book because Shelby was so self-loathing and destructive. Whatever is counter productive to getting over a tragedy, she runs headlong in that direction. This is a trademark of Hoffman’s. She takes her heroes to the brink, pushes them over, and chronicles their fall. If you have the fortitude to hang in there, redemption is nigh.

Oh so gently, with nary any self-awareness on her part (until later), Shelby takes an unlikely turn toward wholeness by stealing a pair of abused dogs. I know. I wish I’d thought of that as a turning point too. It’s brilliant.

You probably won’t recognize any of the people in the story, except Maravelle and her kids. But you will recognize, probably from your own story, that recovery from tragedy is a long road with many a wrong turn.

But coming home is so very sweet.

This is not a sweet story. It’s a satisfying story with characters who are painfully real, human, and fallible. If you’re looking for a book club selection, this will definitely open a lively conversation.

Here are some quotes from the novel to whet your appetite:

“You rescue something and you’re responsible for it. But maybe that’s what love is. Maybe it’s like a hit-and-run accident; it smashes you before you can think. You do it no matter the cost and you keep on running”

“Life was beautiful, everyone knew that, but it was also bitter and bleak and unfair as hell and where did that leave a person? On the outs with the rest of the world. Someone who sat alone in the cafeteria, reading, escaping from his hometown simply by turning the page.”

“People say if you face your worst fear, the rest is easy, but those are people who are afraid of rattlesnakes or enclosed spaces, not of themselves and the horrible things they’ve done.”

Do you have a favorite Alice Hoffman novel? Or…have you read something lovely lately that you would be willing to share? I’m always looking for my next read.




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