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Skylight Confessionsby Alice Hoffman
Synopses & Reviews
On the night her father dies, Arlyn is certain that the man she is meant to be with will walk into her life. But fate seems to be playing a trick when John Moody knocks on her door to ask for directions. Cool, practical, and deliberate, John is dreamy Arlyn's polar opposite. Yet the two are drawn powerfully together even when it is clear they are bound to bring each other grief. Their marriage is dangerous territory, tracing a map no one should follow. It leads them and their children to a house made of glass in the Connecticut countryside, to the rooftops and avenues of Manhattan, and to the blue waters of Long Island Sound, all in a search for family and identity.
Walking this path of ruin and redemption are Sam, their son, a brilliant, explosive artist who is drawn to self-destruction and dreams; Blanca, the beautiful loner who tries desperately to protect her brother from his destiny and lives her own life in a world of books; and Will, the grandson, who is left a legacy of broken pieces he needs to put together, an emotional and mysterious puzzle made up of people who don't know the first thing about love.
Here is a family so real, so tragic, so devoted, it is as if they have written their own riveting history-a quest for love and truth. Glass breaks, love hurts, and families make their own rules. No one who reads this book will ever forget it or look at their own family in quite the same way. Skylight Confessions is a luminous and elegant work of true originality.
"In Hoffman's 19th novel, a young woman becomes the victim of the destiny she's created, leaving behind a splintered family. On the day of her father's funeral, 17-year-old Arlyn Singer decides the first man who walks down the street will be her one love. That night, Yale senior John Moody stops to ask directions, and Arlyn and John take the first passionate steps toward what will become a marriage of heartache and mutual betrayal. After John's architect father dies, the couple moves into his Connecticut home, a glass house called the Glass Slipper, and Arlyn has an affair with a local laborer. She dies while her second child is still young, and the story forks to follow the divergent paths taken by the Moody children. Sam, the self-destructive first-born, spray paints his angst all over lower Manhattan and has a son before disappearing. Blanca, Sam's sister and the only family member he loves, moves to London and opens a bookstore. John remarries, to Cynthia, and has another daughter, but carries a family secret with him to his grave. Ghostly apparitions lend an air of dark enchantment, though the numerous dream sequences feel heavy-handed." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Because of the arduous demands of our so-called real lives, every society needs fairy tales, and Alice Hoffman, over the years, has excelled at producing them for us. This novel, for instance, features a glass house fancifully called the Glass Slipper, a ghost who can be seen by more than one person, flocks of birds that gather at the time and place of human death, magic stones with the power to save... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the shipwrecked and pearls that change color. There's also 'a tribe who lived on the other side of the water, in far-off Connecticut, who could sprout wings in the face of disaster. They looked like normal people until the ship went down, or the fire raged, and then they suddenly revealed themselves. Only then did they manage their escape.' But the real magical thinking in 'Skylight Confessions' comes from two dearly held and not-often-spoken-of female fantasies: the first, that men who spend their lives being mean and emotionally withholding to their wives and children will sooner or later see the error of their ways, go through a karmuppance of some kind and experience an overwhelming feeling of contrition. (This could happen. Actually, I've seen it occur twice in my own life.) The second belief, somewhat antithetical to the first, is that men are so incompetent and lazy that, when their wives come down with cancer, the guys seek company no farther than the woman next door. She tends to comply with the plan, endures the countdown to the wife's death, then marries the man in question before the wife's body cools. (Again, not necessarily unusual behavior. I've seen it happen.) The real yearning, the wishful thinking here, is that good and pure women should possess enough moral power to melt the hard hearts of men who don't care about anything or anybody. A fantasy for our time, if you're a woman, and this is how it plays out in Hoffman's novel. Seventeen-year-old Arlyn lives in humble circumstances in a workman's cottage out on Long Island with her father, a ferryboat captain, who has told her about those Connecticut people who can fly. When he dies, she vows, 'The first man who walks down the street will be my one love and I will be true to him as long as he's true to me.' Sure enough, John Moody, a tall, handsome fellow, stops his car in front of her house and utters the fateful words, 'I'm lost.' But he leaves out some unspoken fine print, as in, 'I'm lost, and I'm a mindless, selfish, unthinking dork, and as long as you live I'll do my darndest to make your life a living hell,' but that happens often enough in real life, too, now that I think about it. Arlyn promptly takes off her clothes and they jump into bed for a few days. Moody tries to weasel out of the relationship, but she pursues him. They get married and have a little boy named Sam, whom Moody can't stand. Their dreadful marriage proceeds apace. Every mean thing Moody can think of to do, short of bopping poor Arlyn over the head with a two-by-four, he does: He's absent for Sam's birth. When Sam gets chickenpox, he checks into a motel. He never talks to Arlyn. He scorns her. Arlyn may be young and innocent, but she's not stupid. She soon turns to the affections of George Snow, who washes the windows of the hard-to-live-in glass house the Moodys call home. George is a simple, honest man who loves Arlyn beyond measure. She gets pregnant by him, has a girl named Blanca and turns up with breast cancer. Moody, ever the clueless clod, trots over next door and starts up an affair with the neighbor, Cynthia. I haven't given away the plot, just the back story. Arlyn dies and Moody's troubles begin. If only he hadn't been such an unloving jerk! But it's too late now. His bad karma begins. Sam can't stand his father or stepmother. What's more, Sam may be one of that strange breed of Connecticut men who know how to fly when the going gets rough. He takes to standing on the glass house's roof and doing dangerous drugs. Will he jump? Fall? Fly? Arlyn, so utterly passive when she was alive, turns into a vigorous ghost, haunting her husband, ruining Cynthia's housekeeping with scattered soot and broken dishes. As soon as Blanca grows up — she can't stand her dad and stepmother either — she flees the country and goes to London, where she runs a bookstore that deals only in fairy tales, called Happily Ever After. Some well-kept secrets eventually come to light. Hoffman stacks the fictional deck in every way. Poor Arlyn is an old-fashioned hard-luck heroine when she takes up with Moody. He has no incentive to be kind; he's awful to her just because he can be. Arlyn's only weapon is herself, her sweet soul. She works off the childlike logic of 'you'll be sorry when I'm dead,' the way kids feel when they run away from home with nothing but a peanut butter sandwich. But Arlyn is haunting, in every sense of the word. And, oh my! Don't all women want to be haunting? Don't we wish that our husbands and lovers and children and friends would be obsessed with us and only us, not because of what we do, but because of what we are? Real life doesn't work that way very often. Men from Connecticut scarcely ever fly, except on commuter planes. The truth is hard to take sometimes. That's why we need fairy tales. While many sensible people will dismiss this story as sentimental slush, the emotionally oppressed might find some tenuous consolation here." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who may be reached carolynsee.com., Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Achingly beautiful and filled with heart-wrenchingly real characters: one of Hoffman's best." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Hoffman's shimmering, multigenerational melodrama bewitches with supernatural imagery." Booklist
"Hoffman's gift for framing otherworldly elements in down-to-earth language intensifies the flawed resolve of the tragic Moodys as they desperately pummel their way through loss and grief and, maybe, redemption. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Be warned...that Skylight Confessions may bewitch you, to use the obligatory reviewer word for Hoffman, but it may also move you to tears. More than once....[A]nother spellbinding tale that will send you into the woods." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Even when the plot sounds like leavings from a soap opera, Hoffman saves the day with her control of the story and her signature fairy dust." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[T]hose who feel that one of literature's tasks is to challenge such fantasies are likely to wonder at the gap between Alice Hoffman's high reputation and the thin literary skills on display in her latest work." Wall Street Journal
"Every culture needs fairy tales, and in the subconscious depths of this novel is an image of people leaping from the twin towers like flaming birds, transformed by magic, able to fly away." Los Angeles Times
"[A] haunting meditation on the curse of bottomless grief, a wickedly hard spell to break." Cleveland Plain Dealer
This stunning new novel about three generations of a family haunted by love is from the bestselling author of Practical Magic and The Ice Queen.
Writing at the height of her powers, Alice Hoffman conjures three generations of a family haunted by love. Cool, practical, and deliberate, John is dreamy Arlyn's polar opposite. Yet the two are drawn powerfully together even when it is clear they are bound to bring each other grief. Their difficult marriage leads them and their children to a house made of glass in the Connecticut countryside, to the avenues of Manhattan, and to the blue waters of Long Island Sound. Glass breaks, love hurts, and families make their own rules. Ultimately, it falls to their grandson, Will, to solve the emotional puzzle of his family and of his own identity.
About the Author
Alice 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. Ms. Hoffman has also worked as a screenwriter for many years and is the author of the original screenplay Independence Day, a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Weist. Hoffman's short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, Boulevard, Redbook, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Premier, Self, Southwestern Review and many other magazines.
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