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The Probable Future


The Probable Future Cover

ISBN13: 9780345455918
ISBN10: 0345455916
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Each of the Sparrow women has a secret view into the lives of others—Stella sees their deaths, Elinor their falsehoods, and Jenny their dreams. In which ways do these attributes make the women more perceptive to those around them? How does this paranormal ability insulate and isolate them? Who adjusts the best to using her gift to accomplish something good, and how does she do so?

2. In which ways does Jennys extreme overprotectiveness of her daughter cause a rift in their relationship? Do you think the two will be closer as time wears on? Why is Stella so much tougher on her mother than on her father? How is Will affected by Stellas unadulterated devotion to him?

3. Why does Stella ally herself with Will? In which ways is he a devoted father, and how is he lacking as a parental role model? What characteristics does Will share with Jimmy?

4. How do you account for the estrangement between Elinor

and Jenny? How does the stubbornness of each woman expand the breach between them? How does Stella act as a bridge between her warring mother and grandmother?

5. The three generations of Sparrow women all are drawn to men with problems, both hidden and visible. Is this always true in love? Is every relationship fraught with problems, hidden or otherwise? Can you think of other works of fiction in which everyone is in love with the “wrong” person or where the “wrong” person turns out to in fact be “right”?

6. How does love transform characters in the novel? Which evolution was the most surprising to you?

7. The season of spring is a tangible presence in the novel. How is it a harbinger of change, and how does it pose a turning point for Stella in particular? How is it a symbol of renewal in the book, but also of death?

8. What about Elinor is so compelling to Brock Stewart? How does she feel about him? Why does Brock feel that he has let Elinor down? Would you classify their relationship as romantic, friendship, or something in the middle? Why?

9. What message does the book convey about history? There seems to be an official and an unofficial history. Matt is interested in the “unofficial history”—the history of the women in town and their effects on the fabric of their society. What part of history is written with “invisible ink”? Which groups are most forgotten in the official history of our

country? Why is it important to note that all of the monuments on the town green of Unity honor men and those who have fought in wars?

10. “For the first time, she didnt want anyones opinion but her own,” Stella thinks when she doesnt ask for her best friends opinion about Jimmy. How is this a significant moment in the development of Stellas independence? In what ways does Stella rely on Juliet, both for guidance and support? In friendships, as in love, do opposites often attract? Why do

you think this is so?

11. How does Liza evolve from a “plain girl” into the woman Will falls in love with? In which ways does she act as a mother figure to Stella? What ultimately draws Will to her, and how does her advice and guidance change him? How does Lizas past loss—her own history—affect the person she ultimately becomes?

12. In which ways are Matt and Will similar? How are they different? How does each react to being his “brothers keeper”— both figuratively and literally? How does their affiliation with the Sparrows shape them, for better or for worse? Do you think both of them love Jenny? Why or why not? Who do you think is the right man for Jenny? Do you believe there is one true love for each of us or that circumstances dictate whom a person loves?

13. Throughout the history of the town, the Sparrow women have changed the lives of others—often unnoticed. What changes did you as a reader see?

14. Why does Elinor leave Cake House to her daughter Jenny, instead of to someone else? Is the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter often less fraught than that

between mother and daughter? Was this true for you? Do you think that Jenny has made peace with her childhood home by the end of the novel? More important, has she made peace with her mother?

15. Why is building a memorial to Rebecca Sparrow so important to Stella? What does Rebecca symbolize to the town of Unity at the opening of the book? Has that conception

changed by the conclusion of the novel? How does Stellas acceptance of her family history contribute to that shift, both in the minds of her family and to the outside world? What is the place of the witch in history? What does it signify for women about their own place in society?

16. Juliet often mentions that each person has a “best feature.” In your view, what are the best features of the main characters? Are they always aware of what their best feature is, or do they often long to be other than they are?

17. Is there a sense of magic in The Probable Future? Do the gifts of the Sparrow women seem magical? Is a “gift” often a “curse”? Does what brings you the most pleasure often bring the most pain as well? What do you believe is the greatest gift a person can have? What is the connection between love and magic?

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

sentina, June 4, 2012 (view all comments by sentina)
I wrote about this before, and now I have more to say:

I was stunned by the deep insight into the minds of both men and women in this book, and I loved the way the author makes the current teen with her special power a very modern and realistic teenager.

The way Hoffman explores the challenging relationships between grandmother, mother, daughter, and the men in their lives, is quite moving and sometimes sad, especially when it isn't expressed until the end of someone's life.

These women all have exceptional and unique talents that they acquire upon their 13th birthdays, such as smelling a lie, seeing other people's dreams, and seeing how people will die. How they live with these in society is part of the challenge of their lives, as is figuring out how to use their powers for good.

The book also explores the "unofficial history" vs the official history of the town, looking at the ways these women affect the community beyond just facts, including the history of the persecution of "witches," one of the women's ancestors being one who died as one.

Set in New England where witch hunting was severe, this story is completely believable in that respect. Hoffman's descriptions of the environment are poetic and vivid, and you can almost feel the ghosts of persecuted "witches" in the air.

Hoffman says that she was trying to make some sense out of how unpredictable life and death are, to write about magic in the real world -- the possible and the probable future.

I thought it was wonderful, and it made me want to heal the female relationships in my family, as well as nurture and express my own unique insights and abilities.
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Sentina, January 23, 2012 (view all comments by Sentina)
Alice Hoffman has some of the most intriguing ways of using words and presenting images that I have ever read. For example, "... how it would end, with snow and silence on a brilliant afternoon," and "... the truth... once again melting in Will's mouth... so that every word came out twisted in an odd, untrustworthy shape." Sometimes I keep going back and reading such phrases over and over, they are so gripping to me.

The story takes place in current time, but goes back through several generations of the female side of the family, all the way back to when the first one was killed as a "witch," where each of the girls acquires a supernatural power on her 13th birthday, each one unique to that girl. In the story, there is only one girl born to each family, and for unexplained reasons, they apparently all keep the same matriarchal last name of Sparrow.

This book has something of a thoughtful, dreamy quality, with interesting and vivid descriptions of the Boston area in both historical and present contexts, in environment, weather, buildings, people, flowers, and sky. Marie Claire magazine is quoted as saying, "Hoffman's ethereal tale of a family of women with supernatural gifts is a magical escape, grounded in the complex relationships between mothers and daughters." Forth Worth Star-Telegram says that Hoffman has "... a beautiful sense of sentence construction, an intriguing imagination, and the ability to create compelling, complex characters that readers care about." I can't say it any better.

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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
tattoo_dancer, October 22, 2006 (view all comments by tattoo_dancer)
I love this book..even though I havn't finished it yet, it is really good. It's full of reality and enchantments...a must read!
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(12 of 22 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

Hoffman, Alice
Ballantine Books
Mothers and daughters
Domestic fiction
General Fiction
Popular Fiction-Suspense
fiction;magical realism;fantasy;magic;new england;family;massachusetts;supernatural;witches;mothers and daughters;women;novel;contemporary fiction;love;literary fiction;romance;clairvoyance;american fiction;psychics;daughters;mothers;relationships;generat
fiction;magical realism;fantasy;magic;new england;family;massachusetts;supernatural;witches;mothers and daughters;women;novel;contemporary fiction;love;literary fiction;romance;clairvoyance;american fiction;psychics;daughters;mothers;relationships;generat
fiction;magical realism;fantasy;magic;new england;family;massachusetts;supernatural;witches;mothers and daughters;women;novel;contemporary fiction;love;literary fiction;romance;clairvoyance;american fiction;psychics;daughters;mothers;relationships;generat
fiction;magical realism;fantasy;magic;new england;family;massachusetts;supernatural;witches;mothers and daughters;women;novel;contemporary fiction;love;literary fiction;romance;clairvoyance;american fiction;psychics;daughters;mothers;relationships;generat
Edition Number:
Reprint ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Ballantine Reader's Circle
Publication Date:
June 1, 2004
Grade Level:
8 x 5.15 x .69 in .625 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
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The Probable Future Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345455918 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "At her best, Hoffman uses small miracles to signify a secular state of grace: in one particularly lovely passage, a doctor remembers coming to terms with death. But The Probable Future is mostly not Alice Hoffman at her best. Things are out of balance: too much magic, not enough realism." (read the entire TLS review)
"Review" by , "Hoffman's ethereal prose reflects the magic of her tale....Ultimately, the fantastic Swallow legend is utterly believable, even though you know it's only the magic of a gifted writer in her prime."
"Review" by , "By Part II, The Probable Future becomes The Predictable Novel. The charm wears off, despite Hoffman's continuous, vigorous crafting of imagery and casting of lyrical phrases."
"Review" by , "[S]himmering....[A] soft and dreamy tale of mothers and daughters, love and fate, that easily envelopes us in its enchanted realm....[T]here's no arguing with Hoffman's storytelling skills, the lyrical writing, the beautifully pieced plot."
"Review" by , "[O]verstuffed, ungainly, improbably absorbing....Enough stylish invention here for several novels, but this one's center cannot hold."
"Review" by , "The book could be an episode of Oprah: 'Good Witches Who Love the Wrong Men.' But fortunately, Hoffman is saved by her characters, who are nearly as complicated as their relationships with one another."
"Review" by , "Hoffman gives us another over-the-top yet thoroughly appealing fictional confection, with themes and settings that recall her Practical Magic....Filled with vivid (if sometimes sketchy) characters and cinematic descriptions of New England landscapes, this book will be a hit wherever Hoffman is in demand."
"Review" by , "Complexly constructed, with intertwined plots, memorable settings, and intriguing characters, this is a magnificent novel."
"Synopsis" by , By turns chilling and enchanting The Probable Future chronicles the Sparrows' legacy as young Stella struggles to cope with her disturbing clairvoyance. Culminating in an exquisite ending, this story showcases the lavish literary gifts that have made Hoffman one of America's most treasured writers.
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