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A Red Heart of Memories Hardcover – October 1, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
It's a pleasure to see a new adult novel from Hoffman, even a lesser work like this one. Her debut novel, The Thread that Binds, won a Stoker for best first novel, but of late she has been writing for R.L. Stine's Ghosts of Fear Street series. This is an innocuous tale of three nomads who become friends and confront the problems in their past. Matt Black is not a witch, but she does have two special powers: "dream-eyes," which allow her to see others' mental landscapes, and the ability to communicate with inanimate objects. After years of wandering alone, Matt is surprised to meet another "special" person: Edmund, a witch who has been "blowing from here to there," using "spirit" to "help things fix themselves." The two quickly become companions and decide to retrace Edmund's life to find out why he is so alone. They visit his childhood friends, including Susan, who becomes part of the group. It turns out that the three all suffer from the effects of traumatic experiences: incest led to self-abusive "zoned" years for Matt; Susan has avoided friendship ever since she fled her controlling father; Edmund's self literally fragmented after he destroyed a man while protecting himself. Hoffman handles the interconnected solutions to the trio's problems with skill, as each solution leads subtly to greater understanding and compassion. At times, however, the characters' long talks skirt perilously close to pop psychology masquerading as wisdom: "He did the only thing he could, because that's what happened. The only place we can change anything is right now." Hoffman's "comfort magic" is even less successfulAEdmund's vague "spirit" and "gold" powers are ill defined, little more than ornaments in a quiet tale of three injured souls helping each other toward happiness. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
A meeting between Matt Black, a woman with the power to communicate with objects, and Edmund, a young man gifted with spirit magic, evolves into a journey into Edmund's past to heal his broken selves. The latest novel by the author of The Thread That Binds the Bones depicts a pair of charmed (and charming) individuals whose unique talents lie not only in their magical skills but in their compassion and resourcefulness. Fans of Charles de Lint's modern-world fantasies should appreciate Hoffman's graceful storytelling and down-to-earth magic. For most fantasy collections.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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The female lead Matt can speak with all inanimate objects, and ask them to do things for her. The male lead follows the Spirit at the heart of possibility and acts as a troubleshooter for needful things. The book follows them as they travel together and heal themselves. I'll say it again -- terrific and compelling prose.
The major stuff is well-resolved, but the last thing the main characters say to each other in the book is 'What happened with XXX and with YYY?'. (Spoiler free, here!) Cliffhanger (resolved in book three). Since it is resolved eventually, I can safely give this a full five stars.
Edit: A Stir of Bones is book one -- read it first. (The book reviewed here is #2). Past the Size of Dreaming is the direct sequel (#3), and covers for the incomplete ending.
This is my second time reading this novel. Originally released in 1999, I had a yen to re-read it after picking up Hoffman's A Stir of Bones at the library. "Bones" was written after "Red Heart" but it is the story of Susan/Suki who is intro'd in "Red Heart".
But "Red Heart" is about Matt and Edmund and their strange little road trip to help Edmund figure out what he has forgotten and why Suki needs to be found as well.
Matt has the ability to speak to and understand inanimate objects such as a wall or a coat rack, even a counter at a doughnut shop. Edmund is a witch of sorts. A young man who was given the ability to do magic. Both are nomads of sorts for similar yet different reasons.
As Matt follows Edmund to his old hometown where they meet Nathan and House (the house that Nathan haunts) and then to his sister's home and then finally to find Suki, she learns as much about Edmund as she accepts about herself.
Hoffmann has a way of making magic seem realistic and mundane. That's her strength because she uses the 'magic' as an outlet for her cast to deal with the bad things that have happened in their lives. If there is a weakness in Hoffmann's work is that the 'bad things' are dealt with in a passive voice of sorts. The 'bad thing' has happened and been pushed away and even when it bubbles up, Hoffmann layers it in a few too many metaphors when a good dose of bluntness would help.
But that weakness aside, the reader gets the gist of what pushes these characters to lead the odd life they choose to lead. In that sense, that detachment helps because in many ways, her characters are detached from life as they move in a world of magical realism.
For me, that's the enticement of her novels. Hoffmann gets me to a place where I understand Matt and Edmund and I accept them as they are instead of wanting them to be something else. Within their world, they make a certain kind of sense.
I don't think the book is for everyone. The pace is meandering and interactions can sometimes seem too precious and the metaphors a little too heavy handed for a reader who might like things more straightforward. But if a reader likes to meander, doesn't mind a little bit of preciousness, and doesn't mind metaphors, then this is a novel that is worth a read or two.
Matt (who is a woman, but since she's homeless she dresses and presents as a man) and Edmund have magic that most people can't see. Edmund calls his Spirit. Is that the Holy Spirit? Maybe. They don't say. Do other people think they're mentally ill? Matt's spent some time in hospitals. They're warm and serve meals, but since she can ask trash cans and dumpsters to give her their freshest food, finding food isn't a problem for her. Edmund's car takes care of him, in a very real way.
The magic in this book isn't like Gandalf's or even Harry Dresden's, it isn't *big.* But it is transformative of several lives. Maybe yours too?