The Rules of Magic: Alice Hoffman, A Halloween Review
By: Mia Manning
Writer of the cult classic book and movie, Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman continues the story in her second novel, The Rules of Magic, to tell the story of Fran and Jet, the older aunts in the hit-film. If the reader is looking for a fall themed, magic-filled novel to sit with, then this is certainly the right novel for them.
The novel follows three central main characters, sisters Fran and Jet, and their brother Vincent, who are fighting not only with finding themselves, but also with an age old curse their family carries, condemning them to lose any man they fall in love with. The characters all develop wonderfully as the novel progresses, and all have unique quirks that make them lovable in their own respects. Hoffman also puts each character through strenuous circumstances, such as death, depression, homophobia, and other impactful topics. While these circumstances are all heart-wrenching and tragic, they not only show the characters true colors, but could even bring a tear to the readers eye. These subjects might be ones that authors shy away from writing about, but Hoffman instead approaches them in a respectful manner. She shows how such experiences can affect someone’s mental health in a negative way, and gives this novel the ability to raise awareness among its readers. Set in the late 1950’s, the novel also uses the political climate of this time period to show the hardships even more. Because these subjects are dealt with care, the reader can appreciate the characters for who they are, as well as their own family and life. Not only this, but because every event in this novel has a direct purpose, the chance of feeling as if reading part of the story was a waste of time is slim. The reader can feel as if they are apart of the characters lives and as if they are truly central in the story-telling. Because of this, The Rules of Magic is an immersing novel.
This being said, some topics in the novel are controversial, and perhaps weird to some, such as Vincent engaging in young sexual relations with his distant cousin. The sexual interaction that happens between the two characters is frankly unnecessary, and only useful because it explains a plot-hole that would exist otherwise. While the sexual interaction leads to a plot-twist, it also could have been altered to be less explicit, or, at least, saved until Vincent is older than the age of thirteen. If sexual topics in general are something the reader does not want to take part in, then this would not be the best novel for them, because it is a central part in the novel for all of the characters. If one is looking for a light-hearted, PG rated fall themed novel, this is not the best choice for them either, because despite having many of comedic moments, is still explicit in adult content.
The novel progression is well balanced, and the language used throughout is exceptionally easy to follow and understand, making this a fairly quick read. Although “Part Five” of the story does feel somewhat rushed, Hoffman could have been worrying about a high page count as she seems to rush to sew up loose ends and finish the prequel in a way that makes sense to those familiar with the second novel/movie. While the loose ends are tied up in the conclusion, the reader is left simply wanting more pages of story and explanation when the novel reaches its close. Because the rest of the story is proportioned out impeccably, this is somewhat disappointing and should be kept in mind. The novel being so well-done prior to this issue almost makes it more upsetting, due to the fact that this is a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat while reading until this moment.
The ending of the novel is also quite sad, which is somewhat expected by the reader. While the ending makes sense, and is necessary to make the second novel fit, a somewhat happier ending would have been a nice change of pace in light of all of the serious topics approached. In order to not create a scene that conflicts with her central idea that any men the Owens fall in love with will face a premature death, Hoffman ends the novel on a heartbreaking note, but does not give an adequate amount of space to show the sisters’ reaction to the death or give them enough time to mourn. Perhaps the death itself could have been shortened - thus giving more time to the characters to show emotion - which might have made this a more heartfelt ending for the reader. While this is not detrimental to the novel, the reader should keep this in mind so that they can approach the conclusion with caution.
The Rules of Magic is a wonderful novel for those who enjoy a dark story that approaches serious topics, such as death, depression, and homophobia. The story is, for the most part, beautifully done, and gives great insight to those interested in reading the second novel, or seeing the movie ‘Practical Magic’. The novel certainly lives up to high expectations and is not a disappointment in the slightest. Well-balanced and well-written, with characters that are impossible not to fall in love with, perhaps one day this novel will be a cult-classic of its own.