Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Faithful is a powerfully emotional read that follows in the footsteps of a young woman whose life is left in tatters after a car accident.
Shelby didn’t want to go out on the night of the accident but was strong armed into it by her best friend Helene. They both argued and whilst this didn’t actually have any bearing on the accident it adds to the guilt that Shelby bears. Basically it’s a cold night and Shelby’s car spins out of control on a patch of black ice. Shelby is pulled from the car wreck, nobody see’s her rescuer and she believes him to be a guardian angel. Unfortunately Helene suffers major trauma that leaves her in a coma, her dreams are gone, she was the most beautiful girl in school and everyone still flocks to see her – believing that she’s turned into a worker of miracles. Meanwhile, Shelby, the survivor, turns almost into a living ghost. She hates herself for surviving. She believes everyone else hates her. She lives in the basement of her parents’ house. She might not be in a coma but her dreams also come to an end after that awful night.
Faithful is a strange story – it starts off very melancholy indeed. Here is a life in tatters. A young woman who despises herself and who is for a time committed to a psychiatric hospital after she attempts to take her own life. Fortunately the sadness that pervades the first third of the story does eventually begin to lessen and that in fact is the major insight into what this novel is about. The main thrust of the story is redemption and self forgiveness. This is a different read to some of Hoffman’s other stories. There is no fantasy or magical realism here. This is a contemporary novel about one woman’s life and how she eventually allows herself to start living it. It is a very powerful story that I can’t deny brought me close to tears on a couple of occasions but don’t let that put you off. There is a story of hope in here it just takes a little while to shine through.
There isn’t really too much more that I can say about the plot to be honest. There are no hidden agendas here, no miraculous recoveries or waving of magic wands Watching Shelby as she goes through her different phases can be almost torturous to watch but at the same time compelling. She eventually moves away from home and although she still hates herself little by little she begins to turn her life around.
In terms of the characters. Well, I can’t deny that Shelby can be a little difficult to like at times but that’s because she doesn’t want to be liked. In spite of her prickliness though, over the course of time she manages to find herself a true friend. She also has a soft spot for the underdog – and in this case I mean that quite literally. She starts out working in a pet store and from their onwards finds herself rescuing dogs until there’s barely enough room in her tiny apartment! I think that probably marks a turning point in her own life to some extent.
I loved Shelby’s relationship with her mother Sue and how this changed so much as the story progressed until Shelby finally recognised the unconditional love that her mother had and how she’d always been there for her.
We also have the two ‘love’ interests in Shelby’s life. Ben loves Shelby. In a strange twist the timing for this is unfortunate for Ben because really Shelby isn’t at a time in her life when she’s ready to be loved. She hasn’t forgiven herself enough for that. Later in the story, in a series of ‘if onlys’ both Ben and Shelby come to realise more about their own true feelings for each other and the missed opportunities they had.
We also have the character of James. His own story has certain parallels to Shelby and similarly it has taken him a long time to come to terms with life.
The final star of the piece is Shelby’s only real friend Maravelle and her children. Maravelle is a lovely character to read and through her friendship Shelby is able to be a part of her family life, watching her three children grow up and come into their own making their own mistakes and experiencing the good and the bad as they grow into adults.
Even though this seems to be a step out of the ordinary for what I usually expect from Hoffman I found this a really good read. Yes, it will pull on hour heartstrings but it’s a beautifully written piece. It looks at the impact that one accident can have on so many lives. And it brings a ray of hope that people can learn to forgive themselves and to live again.
I received a copy of Faithful courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.