Saturday, June 7, 2014

"Second Nature" by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is one of the Society of Authors I'm Obsessed With, and for good reason. Her books are dependably 3 stars or better in my ratings, and I adore her writing style. She also writes mostly Magical Realism, a genre in which the fantastic and the realistic collide to create fresh takes on our world, often to make deeper meaning. Of course, being a story-centric reader, I usually don't catch the nuances of such things, but I try. And with Alice Hoffman's books, even if you are oblivious as me, there is always an intriguing story being told that you can relate to.

The Plot:
Robin Moore is a soon to be divorced from her policeman husband Roy, who cheated on her. Roy is contesting this by having his buddies give her tickets for any miscellaneous infraction. One day, while visiting her brother's work, she comes upon the "Wolf Man" who was found naked, caught in an animal trap in the midst of winter, who also refuses to speak. But upon hearing the news that he is to be transferred to a more controlled psychiatric facility, the Wolf Man does speak, pleading with Robin to take him away. Robin makes a rash decision and decides to take him home, if only for a little while before returning him to the facility. But with her teenage son Connor at home, how long will the Wolf Man remain undiscovered and free?

The story of the Wolf Man reminded me a bit of "George of the Jungle" or "Tarzan", where the baby survives and thrives in the jungle with help from animal friends. Of course, this plot is much more adult than that, and instead of balmy jungle, this tot had to deal with snow, ice, and wolves (oh my), which is why this book is clearly magical realism. I enjoyed the Wolf Man's backstory, but like many of Alice Hoffman's books, this one involves a wide scope of characters and point-of-view, in addition to her story-within-a-story aspects. Not many 184 page books can manage the depth of this one without being boring, and I didn't feel bored while reading this.

I may as well inform you now, this author is not one to write 'happily ever after' endings. Her endings may end with the characters happy, but it isn't the sugary-sweet happy, it's more the "I'm content and I survived this story" sort of ending, where much is realistically resolved, but some is left for the reader's own imagination. I'm one of the few people who enjoys such an ending, but I always secretly wish for 'happily ever after' for the characters after the author's final words.

Second Nature is a book that examines what our true character might be, and also what we're truly capable of. Are we, at heart, the same as animals: willing to kill and maim to get our way? Or are we simply human: fallible and sometimes capable of things we'd rather tout only animals can do? This story manages to ask those questions while engrossing the reader in a tangled yarn of romance, regret, and mystery, earning its place next to all the other Alice Hoffman books on my shelf.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars for a realistic tale about our true natures.

Content: Ages 18+ for non-graphic sex and violence, along with some unexpected f-bombs.

Page Count: 184 in my hardcover edition.

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