Here on Earth

Alice Hoffman, Author Putnam $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-14313-7
Often, in her soulful novels, Hoffman (Practical Magic, etc.) lets mystical atmospherics-animals that take on superhuman qualities, intense colors and temperatures, minute vibrations in the air that signal ghosts or spirits-do all the work while her characters behave in strange and incredible ways under the influence of forces outside themselves. In this novel, the characters' behavior, while highly emotional, is initially at least traceable to psychological motivation. Unfortunately, Hoffman abandons psychological credibility halfway through, after which her protagonist, March Murray, behaves like an automaton. When March comes back to her childhood home in a small Massachusetts town after 19 years in California, she is swept with longing for Hollis, her former soul mate and lover who ran away in a fit of pique. March waited for him for three years, then married her next-door neighbor, Richard Cooper. When Hollis finally did return, he wed Richard's sister, who has since died. Hollis now determines to win March back, and she can't resist his single-minded pursuit. Hoffman conveys the mesmerizing lure of a lost love with haunting sensuality; but March's excuses for Hollis's violent personality and for his physical abuse of her and her teenaged daughter, Gwen, are well beyond the willed myopia of even obsessive love. Other love affairs--between the housekeeper who raised March and the man who was her father's law partner; and between rebellious teenager Gwen (the best character by far, drawn with delightful realism) and March's reclusive brother's son--are described with much more insight and plausibility. The high drama of this novel, and Hoffman's assured and lyrical prose, may carry the day for readers who can accept the premise that a passionate obsession can make sweet reason, maternal protectiveness and the instinct for self-preservation fly out the window. 100,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild featured alternate; film rights to Douglas Reuther. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/1997
Release date: 08/01/1997
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