Author Alice Hoffman excels at weaving elements of fantasy and fairy tale into everyday existence. In her latest novel, Skylight Confessions, she traces the hopes, disappointments and loves of three generations of one family, the Moodys, and in the process teaches some important life lessons.
"This is where everything else begins," says Arlyn Singer, a girl of seventeen who lives in Long Island. Just as her father tells her to prepare for the future, he dies
suddenly in an accident. Arlyn is set adrift, forced to fend for herself until she meets a handsome stranger who stops to talk to her.
"I'm lost," says John Moody as Arlyn shivers in the cold light of her future, the light cast by this tall, attractive young man who has no idea where he is. John is an architect and a self-confessed champion of quiet and order, and Arlyn charms him with her long red hair, despite her dreadful clothes and the freckles scattered across her skin.
They inevitably sleep together, and John comes to stay, but soon he is plagued by nightmares that are filled with disasters, wrong turns, and mistakes. Considering the dreams a bad sign and perhaps a portent of things to come, he runs away, back to New Haven, college, and his exams.
Arlyn, however, tracks him down, and soon they are married and living in John's Glass Slipper House, a house made of glass and steel, with their two children, Sam and Blanca. Arlyn's influence eventually wanes, and a girl called Meredith arrives, attracted to the Glass Slipper "where there's light everywhere and green all around." While Meredith agrees to take on the children, John becomes distracted by his career, far too busy for the likes of Sam and Blanca, whom he sees as fools who waste their time on "squirrels and books and happiness."
Hoffman's characters are constantly seeking to understand themselves, and each other. Signs of something he doesn't want to see, all he's done wrong in his life, plague John. And Sam, a teenage drug addict, is unhappy and conflicted, constantly hungover and sick from drugs,
yet still reluctant to return to a straight life.
Meredith realizes that her current life is a thousand times more important and truer than the life she had
been leading. When she sees the needle marks on Sam's arm, she tries to help him, certain that she can intuit his pain.
For her part, Blanca grows older, her past shrouded in secrecy, her life defined by books and fairy tales, "the before and after, the dark and light, the real and the imagined."
Skylight Confessions quietly explores the choices that we are often forced to make in life, whether they be wrong turns or not. The author's themes explore the enormous power of
a love that can tie you to a place from which you never wish to roam, and by
which death might also tie the atoms that made you to that very same place.
As with Hoffman's other novels, the spirit world seems to play an important part in the story with this notion of people almost trapped in time, their visions from beyond the grave providing the sudden snap, "the crack in their lives that brakes the quiet in tow…"
Beautifully written, Skylight Confessions is a
dreamlike, almost surreal look at modern families with all of their expectations, frustrations and imaginings, while also exhibiting many of those attributes that have made Hoffman's previous works so successful and always so accessible.