Magic opens, Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned sisters
growing up with two aunts in a spooky house in Massachusetts.
“The aunts” — they’re seldom
called by name — are the current incarnations of a long line
of Owens witches. In public the Owenses are shunned and blamed for
everything that goes wrong in town, but after nightfall lovesick women
and girls come to the aunts’ backdoor for potions and spells
in the hope of securing their heartthrobs.
Sally and Gillian just want to be normal. The
ultraconscientious Sally marries and, after she is widowed young,
escapes to Long Island with her two small daughters and lives a mundane
suburban life. Gillian, impulsive and lazy, runs off to a life of
unstable relationships and cavorting about the country. When
Sally’s daughters are teens, Gillian arrives on
Sally’s doorstep with her dead lover in the front seat of the
In the rest of the book, the Owens sisters find that
witchiness can be useful, especially when you’re haunted by
an evil spirit in the backyard. The family magic is called to the
rescue, and the aunts return to the scene.
What’s marvelous about Hoffman’s
storytelling is that she blends the magical with the everyday so
seamlessly that a frog coughing up a ring seems as ordinary as a
rainstorm. As readers come to know Sally and Gillian — as
well as Sally’s daughters Kylie and Antonia, who mirror their
aunt and mother — the characters’ preternatural
qualities are simply part and parcel of who they are.
Sally and Gillian also both find another type of magic
— love. Whatever their paranormal powers, the Owenses prove
as human as everyone else in matters of the heart.
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