In her prior novels, Hoffman has made her mark by weaving magical realism into the disparate elements of everyday life. The Story Sisters,, however, is somewhat of a departure for her, addressing a difficult subject: the destructive nature of drugs and the emotional fallout of a family torn apart of by the tragic loss of a loved one.
As teenagers, Elv, Meg and Claire Story share a powerful circle of intrigue and imagination, their young lives surrounded by the faery realm
and secret language of Arnelle, where women have wings and it is possible to read the thoughts of another person.
The three sisters have a unique understanding that no one can break. But when Elv rescues Claire from the evil seductions of a child molester, all three girls are set on a tangled path, the emotional fallout from the event shaping much of their lives that follows. From early on, it becomes clear that Elv is the one who starts to exhibit the signs of a reckless malcontent, the long patterns of rebelliousness and anger at Annie, her long-suffering mother, and her two sisters becoming almost impossible for the family to bear.
On the night of an anniversary party for their grandparents, an accident with the carriage horses in Central Park forces Claire and Meg to face Elv’s rashness as Elv’s mind gradually fills with demons that she doesn’t want her sisters to hear.
As the girls grow older and Elv descends into drugs, late nights and promiscuity, she becomes ever-more difficult to handle.
Annie and her ex-husband are forced to undertake desperate measures, incarcerating Elv in an isolated New Hampshire drug treatment center.
Here, where “the councilors that looked like prizefighters or bouncers in a nightclub,” Elv meets Lorry, a junkie and petty criminal who becomes her first love and introduces her to heroin, which in turn begins to eat away at what is left of her life.
Claire and Meg must deal with the fallout and the inevitable consequences of not supporting their big sister in her hour of need. Elv is anxious and panic-stricken at the betrayal by her sisters, and her revenge on them comes quick, sharp and unexpected. Her ensuing retribution, however, has devastating consequences for them all.
In this novel of demons and “women with black wings,” absolutely heartbreaking is Elv’s journey into druggie squalor, her ill-fated love affair with Lorry, and Annie’s desperation as her three daughters seem to disappear before her eyes. Although the end is a little wearying and overly sentimental, Hoffman’s characters are always robust and finely drawn. Lean and formidable, this novel exposes the shifting dynamics and complications of sibling relationships and one young girl, her innocence fragmented and her life eventually torn apart by the demons of her own mind.