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book review

The Rules of Magic

By Alice Hoffman

Simon & Schuster, 366 pages, $22

As its title suggest, this is a novel full of magical happenings. Butter melts in dishes when someone is falling in love, bees swarm houses and dead beetles are found on doorsteps when death is on the way, elaborate potions are made from secret family recipes, and a dark book of magic changes hands. This is the prequel to Hoffman's novel-turned-movie Practical Magic and tells the story of sisters Franny and Jet Owens, aunts of Sally and Gillian from the original novel, and of their brother Vincent Owens, whose connection to the girls is more complex. Ultimately, this is the story of how these young woman came to be, but you won't think of Sally and Gillian as you read it because this coming-of-age tale can stand alone just fine. When the three siblings spend a summer with their mysterious aunt Isabelle in the small Massachusetts town in which the Owens family are notorious figures, the truth about their heritage can no longer be buried. But as they embrace the magic that makes up who they are, they must also accept that a curse is upon them and it may prevent them from ever knowing love. Prequels are challenging – they can feel pasted together and forced, or they can feel perfect, as this novel does, as if this was the story Hoffman had in her mind as she wrote Practical Magic. Or, as if it came to her fully formed once she had birthed its predecessor, which is magic in itself. This is a novel that truly offers fantastical escape, as well as breathtaking meditation on real life family and love. The last lines are enchanting. I wanted to write them down and carry them with me in my pocket. Maybe I will.

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