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The Probable Future (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – June 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


“A thrilling adventure of literary alchemy . . . A magical, mystical tour de force of pure entertainment.”
The Seattle Times

“Delicious . . . Hoffman is an unapologetic optimist, and optimism is in short supply these days. It feels like a vacation to curl up with [The Probable Future].”
The New York Times Book Review

“Instantly alluring . . . A mysterious, modern-day fairy tale . . . Hoffman is an amazingly talented writer with a beautiful sense of sentence construction, an intriguing imagination, and the ability to create compelling, complex characters that readers care about.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Hoffman’s ethereal tale of a family of women with supernatural gifts is a magical escape, grounded in the complex relationships between mothers and daughters.”
Marie Claire

“HOFFMAN KNOWS HOW TO PUT MAGIC INTO HER NOVELS, sometimes as an element of the plot;
always in the quality of her writing.”
The Hartford Courant

The Probable Future dazzles with its bristling examination of life’s trying tests of the women of the Sparrow family. The electrifying result is an under-the-microscope look at love, friendship, and the ties that blind and bind.”
The Seattle Times

“[A] bewitching story of gifted women unlucky at love . . . Hoffman is now expert at sketching the New England landscape in the past and future, and the equally chilly psychological landscape of extraordinary women trapped in an ordinary word. . . . She shows a deft hand at tracing the movement from child to adult, showing an unusual ability to create sympathetic characters of all ages.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Hoffman has perfected her very own entrancing style of magical realism and mystical romance anchored to the moody, history-laden Massachusetts countryside. . . . Hoffman’s newest cast of characters is unfailingly magnetic, from her eye-rolling teenagers to her wryly in-love seniors to her suddenly aflame fortysomethings, and the story she tells is as lush as it is suspenseful, as rich in earthy and sensuous detail as it is sweet and hopeful.”

“Hoffman is at her best, chronicling in meticulous and beautiful detail the ways the three Sparrow women are transformed . . . The characters are richly
drawn, each idiosyncratically real and yet each just a bit of a sorceress.”
Book magazine (four stars)

“Full-bodied, wholly absorbing characters . . . Hoffman’s storytelling is as spellbinding as ever.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Spellbinding . . . Of all the magical realists writing today, she may have the best sense of balance.”
Portland Oregonian

“Filled with vivid . . . characters and cinematic descriptions of New England landscapes, this book will be a hit.”
Library Journal

“[A] lyrical, magic-infused work . . . Another witches’ brew of ethereal characters [and] lush settings.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Delicious . . . Like a piece of old-fashioned chocolate cake, Hoffman’s novel feeds a craving.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Delicious . . . Hoffman is an unapologetic optimist, and optimism is in short supply these days. It feels like a vacation to curl up with this fairy tale suffused with the ‘filmy green light’ of spring, smelling of ‘wild ginger and lake water,’ its sweetness balanced by deft touches of the Gothic.”
The New York Times Book Review

From the Inside Flap

Alice Hoffman?s most magical novel to date?three generations of extraordinary women are driven to unite in crisis and discover the rewards of reconciliation and love.

Women of the Sparrow family have unusual gifts. Elinor can detect falsehood. Her daughter, Jenny, can see people?s dreams when they sleep. Granddaughter Stella has a mental window on the future?a future that she might not want to see.

In The Probable Future this vivid and intriguing cast of characters confronts a haunting past?and a very current murder?against the evocative backdrop of small-town New England. By turns chilling and enchanting, The Probable Future chronicles the Sparrows?s legacy as young Stella struggles to cope with her disturbing clairvoyance. Her potential to ruin or redeem becomes unbearable when one of her premonitions puts her father in jail, wrongly accused of homicide. Yet this ordeal also leads Stella to the grandmother she was forbidden to meet and to a historic family home full of talismans from her ancestors.

Poignant, arresting, unsettling, The Probable Future showcases the lavish literary gifts that have made Alice Hoffman one of America?s most treasured writers.


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Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345455916
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345455918
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York.

Hoffman's first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff's magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of eighteen novels, two books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte's masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Her advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman (Women's Cancer) Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman's recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. In January 2007, Skylight Confessions, a novel about one family's secret history, was released on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Her first novel. Her most recent novel is The Story Sisters (2009), published by Shaye Areheart Books.

Hoffman's work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay "Independence Day" a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, Redbook, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Self, and other magazines. Her teen novel Aquamarine was recently made into a film starring Emma Roberts.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Probable Future opens in familiar Alice Hoffman territory: in a New England town, Jenny Sparrow frets over the legacy her daughter Stella will receive upon waking on her thirteenth birthday. All Sparrow woman - and they are all women - find their one "talent", always something magical or supernatural, on this day. The first Sparrow, Rebecca, could not feel pain while Jenny's mother Elinor can instantly detect a lie. Jenny herself dreams other people's dreams. In true Hoffman fashion, the gift Stella receives affects not only the direction of her life but of those who love her - Jenny, Elinor, Jenny's errant ex-husband Will; Will's brother Matt; Liza, the owner of the town tea house; Hap, Stella's new best friend; and Brock Stewart, Elinor's doctor and companion.

While parts of this novel are groaningly familiar, Hoffman deftly moves from these moments to something more solid and truthful. The author has her own gift, that of confident narration. Her characterizations are memorably detailed, with the portrayal of Brock Stewart perhaps the most touching I have encountered in her fiction. Unlike in Turtle Moon and Practical Magic, the magic realism here is not as much a crucial part of the story as it is an overlay. Even though Stella's gift does prompt a journey back to the Sparrows, the reasons seem forced and the action unnecessary. This story would be every bit as moving without the Sparrow women's gifts, fireflies that ignite, and bees that demand politeness. Some fans might be disappointed by the lack of seamless integration of magic and realism in this novel, but others will be thankful the author did not force it upon a story which has its most honest moments between ordinary people.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By B. Billerbeck on March 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
I'll tell you reading some of the reviews on this site, I thought, wow, this is a hard audience to please! Hoffman has so many plot lines, and all of the characterization felt deep and well-thought out. But the thing is, I didn't stop to notice this during the book, because I was just into the story.

I disagree that Will Avery was unbelievable. Everyone knows a slacker in life who works so hard to get away with not working. I also loved the magical elements -- and how it made you think, you know, being mortal -- not such a bad thing.

Really great read!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth Carey on October 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Sparrows are a family of women who've lived in a small Massachusetts town since colonial times, their lives enlivened by a magical gift (different for each of them) that first manifests itself on their thirteenth birthdays. As is often the case with magic, the term "gift" is applied here fairly loosely. In the present day, Elinor always knows a lie, her daughter Jenny experiences other people's dreams, and granddaughter Stella, just turned thirteen, has developed the ability to see how people will die. The relationship-wrecking potential of the first two gifts is of course blindingly obvious, and the third would be a heavy burden for anyone to bear-especially a thirteen-year-old who's not speaking to the mother who's screwing up their relationship by trying to avoid all of her mother's mistakes.
These are well-drawn characters who often inspire, simultaneously, the desire to give them tea and crackers and the desire to knock their heads together. Jenny is completely justified and utterly wrong-headed in her resentment of her mother; so is Stella. Jenny is absolutely correct in having concluded, after having it pounded into her head repeatedly, that Stella's father, Will Avery, is a lying, cheating (...)who can be relied on only to let everyone down. Stella is also right in believing him to be a loving, devoted parent who actually listens to her, which her mother does not.
There is a plot in here, involving Stella's gift of seeing deaths accidentally landing Will in jail, charged with murder, but the plot is not the point. The focus of this book is the engaging, and ultimately optimistic, story of the tangled relationships of the Sparrow women and their friends and relations.
An enjoyable lazy-afternoon read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ashley Davis on March 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
I love escaping into the magical worlds Alice Hoffman creates in her novels and The Probable Future is no different. The story centers on a teen named Stella Sparrow Avery who, like other teens receives a gift on her 13th birthday. Her gift however is a legacy of magical powers that has affected a long line of Sparrow women. For one, the gift was the ability to run faster than anyone; another could stay underwater for 20 minutes at a time. The first, Rebecca, felt no pain, and yet another was a skilled midwife. Stella's grandmother Elinor can tell when someone is lying, and Stella's mother Jenny dreams other people's dreams. Although each gift sounds fabulous, it is a case of be careful what you wish for, because there is a dark side to each. Stella's gift is disturbing: the ability to see how people are going to die. She learns fast that her power has to be used judiciously when she shares information about a potential murder victim with her father and inadvertently makes him a murder suspect. Stella is sent to live with her estranged grandmother Elinor and is soon followed by her mother, Jenny who is not happy to return to the small New England village of Unity. Stella begins to come to terms with her gift as she opens her heart to the people she meets and begins to understand the family history that has inevitably shaped her life.

Reconciliation and forgiveness are the main themes of the novel: about the need to forgive each other, forgive oneself and forgive past wrongs that have been carried down through generations. It is also about the transforming power of love. Hoffman contains her themes within an intricately weaved story that wraps around you like a warm blanket. It is a wonderful story of family love and the relationships between mothers and daughters. It would make a great read for any book club - there is plenty in it to discuss.
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