Flannery O’Connor, when asked what one of her stories meant, said, “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.” The prolific Alice Hoffman’s latest novel announces its subject in the title; its meaning, on the other hand, turns out to be an intricate tapestry that both requires and rewards a reader’s patience. Each of several engaging characters takes a different path to or away from faithfulness. The main beauty lies in the way Hoffman weaves these strands together.
“Faithful” begins as the story of Shelby, who at 17 was driving the car in which her best friend, Helene, is dreadfully injured in an accident. The novel tracks Shelby through the following decade. When we first meet her, she’s been living in her parents’s basement for two years after a suicide attempt and a stay in a mental hospital where she was repeatedly raped by one of the attendants. Self-destructive, mute, and despairing, Shelby has sentenced herself to an indefinite period of punishment for what happened to Helene, now brain dead and on life support. The novel’s first chapter — laying all this out briskly, with scant details and little sense of setting — is painful without being revelatory, and you may be tempted to stop reading. Don’t. Be faithful.
Encouraged by a series of heartening hand-drawn postcards from an anonymous sender, Shelby begins to wobble out into the worl...
READ FULL ARTICLE