Alice Hoffman’s “The Rules of Magic” is a story that begins with “once upon a time” and doesn’t end with “happily ever after.”
It’s a story about losing and loving and losing and living and loving and living despite of it.
You see, the Owens family, who you might have met in Hoffman’s bestselling 1995 sequel “Practical Magic” (which also became a 1998 motion picture starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as the great nieces to the characters in this book), are an old magical family of witches from Massachusetts. Their ancestor Maria Owens was persecuted for witchery during the Salem witch trials in the 1600s. After being imprisoned and betrayed by her lover John Hathorne, she cursed her family to never fall in love.
Try as you might, you can’t help but fall in love with Maria’s descendants: resourceful Franny, kind Jet and charismatic Vincent, who come to age centuries later in New York City during the Cold War, Kennedy assassination, Stonewall riots and Vietnam War.
The Owens siblings inherit their family’s curses: to always float above water, to be able to read minds, to know the future and to be unlucky in love.
Told in six chapters that span decades, “The Rules of Magic” feels like Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” meeting Diana Wynne Jones “Howl’s Moving Castle” — the type of story that makes your heart grow three sizes and believe in the impossible. There’s magic and poetry and longing in Hoffman’s words. You just wish the book didn’t have to end.