Thursday, February 28, 2013

Secret Lives, by Barbara Ardinger. 2011

While described as a novel, this book is more like a series of vignettes, linked by common characters. In each chapter, the main characters- a group of aging women of magic and power- face a different issue or problem. And they are big issues, issues that face the baby boomer generation more all the time: aging and how it affects both body and mind, illness, homelessness, sexuality, prejudice, death, but most of all,  friendship and love. While these women all are witches, their power doesn’t shield them from these issues. They may be able to do a lot of healing, but they can’t stop time.

Getting to know these women over the course of the book- over 600 pages- was a delight, although there are so many characters it took a while for me to be able to remember who was who. Thankfully, there is a cast of characters in the front!  Not everyone in the cast is a crone- there are also some middle aged offspring and even one teenager, whose initiation into the magical group is one chapter. There are men in the lives of some of the women, as husbands, sons, nephews, lovers. Then there is Madame Blavatsky, reincarnated as a cat with magical powers and a great sense of humor.

There is no story without tension, and there are a lot of characters to provide that. The people that run the retirement home some of the women live in are horrible. One is a busybody, intent on micromanaging the lives of the tenants and the other hates women with a passion. The doctor on staff (there is a hospital floor to tend to the needs of the tenants) is greedy, incompetent and soulless. Teens in the neighborhood are harassing the elderly. When some new neighbors move in who also have magical powers, all hell breaks loose. And throughout the novel, one question keeps coming up: whether or not to come out of the broom closet. The story is set in the 1980s, when there was a huge growth in the number of modern pagans, so it’s not inconceivable that they could have done it. But one of the women’s grandmothers was attacked more than once for being a witch and was finally burned to death in her house. Things like that make some of the women absolutely refuse to let out the secret that they are Goddess worshipers and witches. In the end, each woman has to make the decision for herself; whether to come out, and possibly share her knowledge, or stay safe and risk letting her knowledge die with her. If you like magical realism, fantasy, or pagan fiction, give this book a try. 


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