Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Published by Simon & Schuster, 288 pages, $26
Prolific local author Alice Hoffman’s latest novel follows Shelby, the driver in a car accident that debilitated her friend Helene. A contrarian young woman, Shelby falls into despair, rejecting college and eventually creeping back into a lower-than-she’d-planned life, working in a pet store. She connects with Ben, a guy on her own oddball level she knew in school. Guilt has made her wary and unbalanced, but she is buoyed up by mysterious messages—perhaps from some heavenly being—that somehow comfort her. “Save something,” one postcard suggests delphically. Helene, meanwhile, is said to deliver mystical cures to fellow ill people from her comatose state.
Hoffman doesn’t hold back on portraying our protagonist as difficult, rejecting of affection and belligerent in her teenage years and beyond. But she also shows the leery Shelby, who dislikes children, slowly becoming fond of her friend Maravelle’s three kids and opening her heart to their affections with almost motherly protectiveness. Her interactions with dogs, too, reveal her softening spirit. But she rejects the kindhearted Ben, who has stubbed out his pot-smoking tendencies and risen in the veterinarian world. And there’s another self-defeating affair with a married man.
Shelby’s guilt, Hoffman shows, acts like a ring of barbed wire around her. But Shelby’s staunchly loving mother, her generosity toward dogs, her hard work and the flickering hope delivered by those otherworldly messages help bring on her eventual salvation. And that includes a redeeming surprise.
From page 43: There is the platform; there are the dogs. This time a girl is with them. She has tattoos on her face, blue lines and swirls. Shelby gazes at the sky and notices the clouds are white on one side, blue on the other. If you slit them open with a knife something strange would likely fall down. Snow in the summer, postcards with no postmark, advice from above.