Author: Alice Hoffman
Release Date: June 24, 2003
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Page Count: 322
Genre(s): Magical Realism
Summary from Goodreads:
The women of the Sparrow family have lived in New England for generations. Each is born in the month of March, and at the age of thirteen, each develops an unusual gift. Elinor can literally smell a lie. Her daughter, Jenny, can see people’s dreams as they’re dreaming them. Granddaughter Stella, newly a teen, has just developed the ability to see how other people will die. Ironically, it is their gifts that have kept Elinor and Jenny apart for the last twenty-five years. But as Stella struggles to cope with her disturbing clairvoyance, the unthinkable happens: One of her premonitions lands her father in jail, wrongly accused of homicide. The ordeal leads Stella to the grandmother she’s never met and to Cake House, the Sparrow ancestral home full of talismans and fraught with history. Now three generations of estranged Sparrow women must come together to turn Stella’s potential to ruin into a potential to redeem.
Goodreads recommended that I read The Probable Future based on my interest in Sarah Addison Allen’s books, and I think that (as usual), Goodreads was right on. Hoffman’s novel is a tale of the bonds between women and the uncertainty of the future, colored with a touch of small town magic.
In elegant, exacting prose, Alice Hoffman introduces readers to the Sparrow family. Thirteen generations of Massachusetts-born women who all have some strange gift that emerges on their thirteenth birthday. The Probable Future’s specific focus is the troubled relationships between the three newest generations: Elinor, her daughter Jenny, and her granddaughter Stella. Under a set of unlikely circumstances, all three are together in their ancestral town, and something’s got to give.
I was very impressed with the way the author dealt with the mother-daughter and grandmother-granddaughter relationships in this book. Even though there’s more to the plot, these dynamics between women are at the core of this book. In The Probable Future, Hoffman really grasps the complexities of Elinor and Jenny and Stella’s dealings with one another, and she paints a very real picture of family life.
The protagonists’ relationships are a great anchor for the rest of the fairytale-like goings-on. Stella’s newly-discovered “gift” is to know how people will die, and it gets her into trouble. And while she deals with preteen angst (made worse by her grim reaping ability), her mother and grandmother are hashing out decade’s old arguments and tensions, which partly have to do with their own gifts.
Beyond that, Hoffman goes so far as to add another layer, intermixing the story of the original Sparrow, Rebecca. Rebecca was a foundling child who was eventually tried as a witch in the late 1600s, and she’s become something of a town legend. For Stella, finding more about Rebecca’s life becomes an obsession as she tries to connect with the roots her mother had cut her off from for thirteen years.
And that’s not all The Probable Future has in store for its readers. Beyond the family dramas that I’ve already mentioned, there’s also a murderer on the loose, as well as a love interest for all three Sparrow ladies. Hoffman has added layer upon layer to this story, until it’s become as nuanced and multifaceted as real life (with a bonus taste of magic, of course).
The Probable Future is a compelling story about the supernatural and the relationship between mothers and daughters. Alice Hoffman’s excellently crafted prose and intriguing imagination combine to create a wonderful, fairytale-like small town atmosphere. The end result is a charming book that captivates and inspires.