Thursday, September 24, 2009

I've just finished reading The Secret Life of Prince Charming, by the ever-talented Deb Caletti, the author of Wild Roses and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart. My library card was full, but this nice lady (a mother, who was borrowing books for her pre-schooler) allowed me to use hers.

And as usual, Deb did not disappoint. My favourite is still Wild Roses - her best yet - but Prince is pretty good too. It's about this girl called Quinn, who grew up in a house full of ladies who have had their hearts broken by men - her mom, her aunt Annie, her grandma. They warn her against men, but she refuses to start getting cynical about love at the age of 17. She and her younger sister Sprout have just reunited with their father 3 years ago and are starting to know him. Quinn is hopeful, eager to find a bond with her father, and in awe of him, the performer (part of a circus band called the Jafarabad Brothers, or something like that). Sprout, however, is loyal to their mother and distrustful of their father. She's frustrated that Quinn can't see their father for the egotistical jerk he is. He loves no-one but himself.

When one day, Quinn finds a room full of prized items that she discovers were stolen from the women in her father's life, she decides to hunt down her half-sister, Frances Lee, who persuades her to go on a karmic quest to return those items to their rightful owners.

Along the way, Quinn meets Jake Kennedy, Frances Lee's younger brother (who's the same age as Quinn). And can I just say that he's the latest fictional character I've fallen in love with. He looks like a bad boy, with the serpent tattoo on his arm and those smouldering good looks (of course, Deb didn't use this expression to describe him - how cliched would that be?). But he once said to Quinn, "You're not the only one looking for something true." He's a sensitive soul who's had his heart broken before and just wants to find a love that is true and pure and simple. This is reminiscent of Cassie Morgan and Ian Water's love in Wild Roses. It's so heartbreakingly pure and uncomplicated - only Deb can create a love story like that. Plus, the guys aren't sappy. They're tender but they're not clingy or mushy; they joke around like Michael Moscovitz and have no underlying motives. They're so pure of heart it's almost impossible. But what is fiction but delightful escapism sometimes, eh?

Throughout the story, there are excerpts from the women in Quinn's father's lives, who reveal the loves - good and bad - they had in their lives. Once again, Deb Caletti has delivered a poignant, lighthearted gem of a story.

Right now, I'm on page 75 of The Story Sisters, the latest book by Alice Hoffman (yes, the Alice Hoffman who went nuts because some book critics didn't deliver such nice comments about her book - suprisingly unprofessional of her). Hoffman's writing style is almost one of a kind. I've read Practical Magic before, and it's like she's in a world of her own. In a good way. There's a heavy use of natural imagery, almost magical and detached from the real world, even though her stories do take place in our world. There's a sort of ethereal, otherworldly quality to her books. This is an exerpt from The Story Sisters:

The town was thick with Virginia creeper, wisteria, weeds that suddenly grew three feet tall. It had been that kind of summer. There were thunderstorms and hail. The news reported a strange rain of live frogs one wet, humid night. Children ran out with mayonnaise jars to capture them the way they used to catch fireflies. The air felt electric, sultry; it pressed down on you and made you want to sleep, turn away from your troubles, tell yourself lies.

Practical Magic, as you know, had been made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. It's about these two sisters brought up by their aunts who practice witchcraft. Nicole played Gillian, the rebel, while Sandra played Sally, the sensible one who lost her first and only love (her husband) in a magical accident. There isn't much of a plot in the story. The interesting part where they're trying to hide their practice from a cop (who eventually falls in love with Sally) wasn't expounded upon. But the captivating, enchanting way in which Hoffman creates her prose compensates for that.

For The Story Sisters, however, there are both plot and good writing - a tremendously lethal combination. The main characters are the three sisters, Elv (16), Meg and Claire (12), but Elv steals the show, so to speak. She's the one who created an Otherworld called Arnelle, and even came up with the language Arnish. Arnelle exists underground, resided by faeries, goblins and the Queen who is looking for a successor to the throne. Elv used to entertain the girls in her school, as well as her sisters, with these stories. But soon, after getting kidnapped on an outing with Claire one day, something changes in her. She falls deeper into this world she has created, and becomes more detached from the real world. She experiments with sex, drugs and the like, gets herself tattooed, cuts herself and sneaks out every night in search of experiences that will prove herself to the Queen that she is a worthy successor.

While Claire completely looks up to Elv, and wants nothing more than to be like her, Meg grows apart from her eldest sister and into a life of normalcy, of French club meetings and college catalogs, school newspapers and painting lessons. Ever since that incident where Elv and Claire set loose a horse in the park (those that people pay to ride around), which eventually got shot because it was causing lots of chaos, with Claire on its back. Claire broke both of her arms and the horse died, but Elv thinks she saved it. She believes it has gone to a better place, to Arnelle, where she imagines she would see him once she finds out how to cross over to the other side.

I know, it's really messed up. It's like she has schizophrenia, detached from reality, delusions of grandeur. The works. But it's so disturbing it's alluring. If I wasn't all that impressed by Hoffman's talent in Practical Magic, I definitely am now.

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