Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Alice in Wonderland ; in Alice Hoffman's New Novel, the Choice Is Either Angel or Fiend

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Alice in Wonderland ; in Alice Hoffman's New Novel, the Choice Is Either Angel or Fiend

Article excerpt

Alice Hoffman's new novel, "Blue Diary," opens on a nice day - no, "a brutally gorgeous morning ... on a glorious day" with a "brilliant sky" in a "peerless month" full of "glittering sunlight."

"This is the season when even the most foolish of men will stop to appreciate the creamy blossoms of hollyhocks and English daisies." This is writing that will make even the most foolish of readers want to brush their teeth. But we're not off the first page yet.

We have to meet Ethan Ford, the eugenic hero Hoffman creates by crossbreeding Superman, Jesus, and Brad Pitt. "He's a man of his word, as dependable as he is kind.... He's an excellent carpenter, an excellent man all around; a valued member of the volunteer fire department well known for his fearlessness; a respected coach who offers more encouragement to some local children than their own parents." He helps out at the senior center and never turns a friend down for a loan.

And, of course, he's the most handsome man anyone has ever seen, unless you read Hoffman's previous novel, "The River King," whose hero was, up until this time, the most handsome man anyone had ever seen. But "Ethan is the sort of man who doesn't seem to be aware of his own good looks," perhaps because he enjoys the benefit of not having everything explained for him the way we do in this novel.

He loves his beautiful wife "desperately," and why not? Jorie laughs "the sort of sweet laughter that summons the sparrows from the trees." "Their union" - you guessed it! - "was a miracle

of sorts." When they walk through town, adoring neighbors stare at them "as though bewitched" or call their names from passing cars.

But, rats, if only Ethan hadn't raped and murdered a 15-year-old girl. That's the sort of slip that can ruin your whole day, no matter how the sunlight glitters off the hollyhocks.

When a strange little girl next door recognizes Ethan's mugshot on a most-wanted TV show, his horrible past finally catches up with him. In a moment, the perfect world collapses. Jorie must decide how to live with the knowledge that she never really knew her affable stud muffin. And their son withdraws into a cloud of angry disillusionment. …

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