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Tom Clancy
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Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Faithful: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is an incredibly accomplished and versatile writer who has been solidly publishing for close to five decades. I've been reading her for thirty years - my first book by her was Turtle Moon, all the way back in the 1990's. I've read probably half dozen of her books.

 

Faithful is a contemporary story that is pretty light on her trademark magical realism. The basic plot revolves around Shelby, who is 17 when she is the driver in a horrific traffic accident that leaves her best friend, Helene, in a coma. Shelby's life is destroyed right along with Helene's - her guilt and self-hatred are so all consuming that she feels that she has no right to any level of happiness. 

 

There were parts of the book that worked for me, and parts that really didn't. There is a lot of trauma in this book, and it times it veers into trauma porn. The best part of the book, to me, was the relationship between Shelby and her mother, Sue.

 

The two elements of magical realism didn't really work. There is a minor subplot dealing with Helene that suggests that she has healing powers. This was completely peripheral to the story and made no sense. There was also a plot device where Shelby periodically received postcards that told her to "Say Something" when she wasn't able to speak due to trauma, or "Do Something" when she was thinking about moving away from her home to NYC. These ended up having a fairly pedestrian explanation that also didn't work for me at all.

 

The writing is excellent, because Alice Hoffman can definitely write. And I found Shelby's arc as she puts her life back together to be really touching. She made some terrible decisions along the way, but she made some good ones, too, most particularly in her choice of befriending a single mom named Maravelle with three kids. That relationship, along with her relationship with her mom, anchors Shelby.

 

This isn't a romance, but Shelby's relationships with a few men are explored. This was the least effective part of the book to me, although her nearly relentless tendency to self-sabotage made sense and was consistent with both her character and with what a person who considers herself worthless would do.

 

I'd say that this is a lesser Hoffman, but I still couldn't stop reading it and finished it in a couple of hours. It ends on a hopeful note - we leave Shelby with the sense that she will be okay, and that she has earned her redemption.