BOOK REVIEW / The dog from hell lies down: 'Turtle Moon' - Alice Hoffman: Macmillan, 14.99

IT'S MAY in Verity, Florida, when Mother Nature makes her children do crazy things. Sea turtles migrate across Main Street, the restaurants all serve Alligator Salad, flocks of fugitive parakeets take up residence on rooftops, and an angel named Bobby begins haunting the local Burger King. It's that 'difficult time of the year' when 'people who grew up in Verity often slip two aspirins into their cans of Coke; they wear sunglasses and avoid making any major decisions. They try not to quit their jobs, or smack their children, or run off to North Carolina with the serviceman who just fixed their VCR'.

Like Alice Hoffman's previous eight novels, Turtle Moon is about men, women and children trying to understand one another. They live in middle-American suburbs, shop in malls, watch trash TV, have trouble paying their bills, and sense a dark indefinable formlessness starting to creep into their lives.

In Hoffman's fictional universe, mundane reality is a place where fantastic things can and should happen.

This time Hoffman's cast of characters is wider and more varied than usual, and she spreads herself pretty thinly as a result. First there's 12-year-old Keith Rosen, 'the meanest boy in Verity', a casual shoplifter with a bad attitude and three school suspensions to his credit. His mother, Lucy, is a lot like the majority of mothers in town - divorced, lonely, and waiting to feel passionate about the right man.

Janey Bass works at the Hole-in-One, a local diner, along with her daughter, Shannon, with whom Bobby the Angel falls in love. Then there's Julian Cash (cousin to the deceased Bobby, and partially responsible for Bobby's death in an motor accident), who tracks people for a living with Arrow, his wild 'dog from hell'. Julian was raised by Miss Giles, the kind but irascible old woman who regularly adopts other people's neglected babies, and possesses more stoic fortitude and maternal righteousness than any reader will be able to stomach. Sound like bad soap opera? It gets worse.

Hoffman begins Turtle Moon by displaying her usual gifts - a lyrical sense of the ordinary, and a gentle willingness to show her readers a good time. But eventually this novel grows tiresome, saccharine and mechanical. When Keith witnesses the murder of his neighbour (who is herself yet another single mother trying to save her baby from bad people), he snatches the baby from the laundry-room before the killer can get to it and heads for the hills. By caring for the baby, Keith learns the responsibilities of being a good mother. Eventually he's recovered by Julian and the 'dog from hell' (who, of course, lies down like a lamb with the newly converted 'mean boy'), and Keith's mother; Lucy, decides to solve the murder herself to clear her son's name (not that anybody has actually charged Keith with the murder, or has even shown any compunction to).

By this point, characters don't develop anymore, but the plot merely unravels. Julian and Lucy fall in love and try to catch the murderer before the murderer returns to kill Keith; and the murderer conveniently never makes a stab at Keith (though he's had plenty of opportunities) until late in the novel, thus providing the major characters time to realise that loving one another may be difficult but, hell, love is what makes the world go round.

The biggest problem with Turtle Moon is that Hoffman is trying to write about what happens when evil is unleashed among good, 'down home' people, but she has no grasp whatsoever of evil. Her murderer is kept off-stage throughout the entire novel, and functions like a sort of inverted deus ex machina. He appears at the end just long enough to provide a quick cinematic bit of clarity (and thus perhaps pump-up the film-rights auction), reminding us that good is good because it refuses to be bullied by people like him. Like a straw dog, he only exists to be eliminated. His actions never make sense and his human motives are never explored.

Because she has no sense of human tragedy, Hoffman's characters tend to sacrifice themselves rather than suffer. In the tradition of Harriet Beecher Stowe, say, or Louisa May Alcott, Hoffman writes a brand of sentimental romance in which individual deaths are sublimated by a sense of transcendent human purpose. (Uncle Tom may die, for example, but only after teaching people about their emotional responsibilities to one another; his death is not in vain, because it reminds people about the 'family of mankind' to which they all belong.)

Even when Hoffman's novels are effective (and many of them are more effective than Turtle Moon), it's hard to read them without feeling lectured to. Kindly, of course, and in a wise, gentle tone - but lectured nevertheless. It's a world of oppressive and mythical benevolence, where the good moms like Lucy, Janey or Miss Giles all love their babies devotedly, no matter how badly those babies may misbehave; and whenever human tragedies make life seem confusing, love comes along to make sense of everything. It's a representation of life that parents like to draw over their children at night like a favourite blanket.

It's not an adult story, however, and in this case it does not produce an adult novel.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor