Alice Hoffman's trademark style combines well-developed characters
and realistic settings with dreamlike, mesmerizing plots and atmosphere.
Her last novel, Practical Magic, went the farthest into
the realm of supernatural while maintaining a sense of realism with her
characterization and place description. Her newest novel, Here on
Earth, proves to be as mesmerizing and compulsively readable as
anything she's ever done.
After nearly two decades in California, March Murray returns to her
small Massachusetts hometown for the funeral of Judith Dale, the housekeeper
and surrogate mother who raised her. With her rebellious fifteen-year-old
daughter Gwen in tow, March reluctantly reenters the milieu of her childhood,
a place rife with memories of love, obsession and loss. March's husband,
Richard, who grew up in the same tiny community as she, has stayed behind
in California to continue teaching his college courses, assured by March
that taking care of Judith's estate won't take too long. But March's
assurances prove to be empty when she finds that she can't stay away
from the childhood love who broke her heart.
Hollis was a mistrustful, delinquent foundling March's lawyer father brought
home from a business trip to Boston. Even though she was only a child
herself at the time, March immediately and irrevocably fell in love with
him. When March's father died a few years later, his neglect to his own will
left all his estate to March's brother, Alan, who hated Hollis with a
furious, jealous passion. Humiliated and dirt poor, Hollis left the small
town for Florida, where he made a shadily obtained fortune. When he
returned to Massachusetts, he found that March had given up hope of his
ever returning after years of waiting and had flown to the kind, quiet
comfort of Richard Cooper's arms in California. When he finally contacted
March, she was pregnant with Gwen and unwilling to leave the stability
that life with Richard offered.
Now, nearly twenty years later, having lost both a wife and a son,
Hollis knows that he need only bide his time, that March will come
back to him. March's brother Alan lives hidden away in the marshes,
a reclusive drunk whose own life fell apart when his young wife was
killed in a fire. Hollis is raising Alan's son with the same cold aloofness
with which Alan himself suffered Hollis to live under. When March's
daughter falls in love first with one of Hollis' retired racehorses
and then with her own cousin, Hollis has the bargaining tools he needs
to keep March near him. March's own undying obsession with Hollis does
all the rest.
Richard Cooper's worst fear has come to pass: his wife has caved in
to the one person she can never forget. March enrolls Gwen in school
in her old hometown, and they move into Hollis' house. What March doesn't
realize is that Hollis has grown more vindictive and bitter with time,
and his love is not the kind that any woman should hope for. It will
take the revelation of horrible long-kept secrets, her daughter's final
healthy rebellion, and her own subsumed will to break March free of the
obsession that will ultimately threaten her life.
Readers will find themselves in reluctant sympathy with Hollis, a
really unlikable man but one whose development was so warped that it
twisted the person. March's brother Alan, her daughter Gwen, and her
nephew Hank are intriguing and make the story much richer for their
presence. With Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman has lived up
to all the expectations the book world has of her, and even moved beyond
into some uncomfortable (and thus mostly unexplored) territory as far
as borderline mainstream/literary fiction goes. Well worth reading,
especially for a truthful ending that neatly avoids being maudlin.