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

4.0 out of 5 stars 139 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Magic is once again knitted into the fabric of a Hoffman novel, this one revolving around a New England family living with the legacy of witchcraft. In colonial Unity, Mass., Rebecca Sparrow was tried as a witch and drowned because of her physical inability to feel pain. Her present-day descendants possess extraordinary gifts. Elinor, the dying matriarch of the Sparrow family, has the ability to discern liars. Her estranged daughter, Jenny Avery, can divine other people's dreams. And Jenny's 13-year-old daughter, Stella, knows how and when people will die. Jenny is recently divorced from Will Avery, a charming but erratic and hard-drinking music teacher; she and Stella live in Boston, where Stella is a charity case at the exclusive Rabbit School for girls. Brainy and unpopular, Stella chafes at her mother's invasive omniscience while trying to make sense of her own powers. When Stella asks her father, Will, to try to prevent a death, he ends up becoming a murder suspect, and her mother sends her to live with Elinor at Cake House, her home in Unity, until the scandal dies down. Jenny and Will soon join her, as does Will's brother, Matt, a reclusive scholar, and Stella's best friend, the audacious, jaded Juliet Aronson. Matt is studying the life of Rebecca Sparrow, and his research reveals strange echoes of Rebecca's story in the lives of her descendants. Subplots are numerous: Brock Stewart, Elinor's doctor, has been secretly in love with Elinor for years; his teenage grandson, Hap, meets the Sparrows and develops a crush on Juliet; and Will becomes close with Liza, an old high school classmate of Jenny's. The plot is crowded, and readers will wish for more time with each of the full-bodied, wholly absorbing characters, but few will complain: Hoffman's storytelling is as spellbinding as ever.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

Hoffman has perfected her very own entrancing style of magic realism and mystical romance anchored to the moody, history-laden Massachusetts countryside. In an astonishing run of 16 dazzling novels of family strife, crimes of passion, and the sort of love that induces a person to walk through fire, plunge to the bottom of a cold, dark lake, or promise anything to the gods, Hoffman has gently lifted the veil between the ordinary and the supernatural and made of human desire a force of nature. In this bewitching tale, three living generations of Sparrow women confront their strange and challenging heritage. It all begins in 1697 when a strange girl who can't feel physical pain walks out of the woods surrounding the tiny settlement of Unity, and unnerves the witch-fearing townsfolk. Each of her descendents, all female and all born in the volatile month of March, possesses a similarly troublesome gift. Elinor can recognize a liar at 100 paces, although her husband still betrays her. Jenny, her daughter, dreams other people's dreams. And her daughter, Stella, can see people's deaths, a burden that at first wreaks havoc when her feckless father is accused of a murder she foresees but later becomes a boon. 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. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Alice Hoffman's PRACTICAL MAGIC is easily her most popular title, yet she hasn't written anything similar to that book in many years, much to the dismay of her many fans. Subsequent books have ranged from disturbing to unfulfilling, as she tackled such powerful themes as spousal abuse, hazing and identity change.
But this book returns her to the genre that suits her best: magical realism. The wonderful book spins the tale of a family of magical women, who pass psychic gifts from generation to generation. It's up the the latest of the Sparrow women, a rebellious teenager, to trace the disturbing history of this haunted family. Meanwhile, her mother, unhappily married and attempting to turn her back on the Sparrow gifts, learns from her daughter the terrible truth of the original Sparrow "witch."
It's glorious reading and done in the lush style that Hoffman wears like a kid glove. Any Hoffman fan who has been disappointed in recent years will love this book, as will newcomers to Hoffman's work.
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