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When the women in the Sparrow family reach thirteen, they develop a unique ability. In young Stella's case, the gift, which is both a blessing and a curse, is the ability to see a person's probable future. Stella foresees a gruesome murder, and tells her charming, feckless father about it, but it is too late - the murder has already been committed and suspicion falls on him.
Hoffman unlocks the caskets of family life and the secret history of a community in this magical story about young love and old love, about making choices - usually the wrong ones - about foresight and consequences, all suffused with the haunting scent of roses and wisteria, and the hum of bees on a summer evening.
Magic is once again knitted into the fabric of a Hoffman novel, this one revolving around a New England family living with the legacy of witchcraft. In colonial Unity, Mass., Rebecca Sparrow was tried as a witch and drowned because of her physical inability to feel pain. Her present-day descendants possess extraordinary gifts. Elinor, the dying matriarch of the Sparrow family, has the ability to discern liars. Her estranged daughter, Jenny Avery, can divine other people's dreams. And Jenny's 13-year-old daughter, Stella, knows how and when people will die. Jenny is recently divorced from Will Avery, a charming but erratic and hard-drinking music teacher; she and Stella live in Boston, where Stella is a charity case at the exclusive Rabbit School for girls. Brainy and unpopular, Stella chafes at her mother's invasive omniscience while trying to make sense of her own powers. When Stella asks her father, Will, to try to prevent a death, he ends up becoming a murder suspect, and her mother sends her to live with Elinor at Cake House, her home in Unity, until the scandal dies down. Jenny and Will soon join her, as does Will's brother, Matt, a reclusive scholar, and Stella's best friend, the audacious, jaded Juliet Aronson. Matt is studying the life of Rebecca Sparrow, and his research reveals strange echoes of Rebecca's story in the lives of her descendants. Subplots are numerous: Brock Stewart, Elinor's doctor, has been secretly in love with Elinor for years; his teenage grandson, Hap, meets the Sparrows and develops a crush on Juliet; and Will becomes close with Liza, an old high school classmate of Jenny's. The plot is crowded, and readers will wish for more time with each of the full-bodied, wholly absorbing characters, but few will complain: Hoffman's storytelling is as spellbinding as ever. Author tour.