Thursday, December 25, 2008

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah

The Magic Hour was a truly engaging, fascinating tale of two sisters with disparate lives who must work together when the police chief sister finds a feral child in a tree in her small town in Washington state. Her psychiatrist sister must try to find the identity of the child and attempt to get her to speak of what happened to turn her into a small, frightened animal, malnourished and covered with scars. Rain Valley, the town that cop sister Ellie runs sounds a great deal like Maple Valley or one of a dozen small burgs 30 or 60 miles out of Seattle; its rainy, green, picturesque and full of characters that seem by turns amusing and bizarre. Dr Julia Cates, her sister, has been living in Los Angeles and, through no fault of her own has been tainted by the actions of a former patient who went on a rampage and killed 6 teenagers before killing herself. With the press hounding her and the families of the murdered teens howling for blood (and money of course), Julia's retreat to her hometown comes at the perfect time...she needs a miracle to salvage her career and her fragile sense of self, and the feral child is so traumatized she can't speak, so she's in need of a miracle as well, to unlock the secret of her identity. The town doctor is a hunk with a secret named Max, who has already cut a swath through the women of the town, and can't seem to commit since the death of his son and divorce from his wife. Inevitably, he's attracted to Julia, but Julia's never been able to commit either, so there is a lot of stuttering starts and stops to their relationship. Many of the peripheral characters, such as Penelope Nutter, called Peanut, and Cal, who has loved Ellie ever since he was a teen, are portrayed as well rounded characters with lives that are realistic and interesting. The feral child, called Alice, is heartbreakingly rendered here, and the reader exults and trembles and falls in love with Alice just as easily as Julia and Ellie do. Alice reminds us of the wonders of being a child because she is free of societal constraints, yet she also reminds us of how fragile the human mind is, and how resilient children are in the face of starvation and abuse. That one tiny little 5 year old girl can survive being treated worse than an animal for at least 3 years is astonishing. That she can learn to speak and to bond with adults after such trials is miraculous.
I had the novel on CD and in hardback form, but I soon discovered that my portable CD player sucks batteries dry after only a few hours, so I switched to the reliable book, and finished the second half of the novel by page. I found it much easier to savor the prose and plot on the page than having the characters interpreted for me by an actress on CD. Speaking of the prose, it was comfortable, sturdy and yet had a nice, almost hypnotic rhythm to it. The characters were fascinating and well drawn, and the plot, though somewhat predictable, was still brisk and tight. The ending was quite satisfying in a traditional HEA way, and I found myself saddened that it was over so soon. I will certainly be seeking other books by Ms Hannah in the future. I'd recommend this book to those who like mysteries and down-to-earth romances with a little "Empire Falls" thrown in for good measure.

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