The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman
Published by Atria Books
Publication date: August 15, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Fantasy, Historical
I had asked to be forgiven in the past, but I was someone else now. I was the girl who knew how to escape, the one who could become invisible, who believed that a single dream was more powerful than a thousand realities.
Ivy Jacob is a dreamy, book loving 16-year-old who steps into the real world long enough to find herself pregnant. Something her wealthy Bostonian parents have no intention of dealing with. But before she can be shipped to a Utah boarding school from where she’ll return alone in nine months she uses cash to buy a bus ticket to rural Massachusetts to a farm a fellow runaway has convinced her is a welcoming place. Once there, the trajectory of her life and that of the daughter she gives birth to is forever altered in Alice Hoffman’s The Invisible Hour, a three part story set in the worlds of books, time travel, and writers.
The farm and all its land are owned by the widower of a rich local woman. Joel’s guiding principle is community, of breaking free from toxic family ties and structures. Kindness is the basic tenet, but traditional societal structures are shunned—there’s no marriage and children are raised by everyone. Ivy welcomes the structure and belonging the community gives her, but finds relinquishing the mother/daughter bond impossible to maintain. This, plus other rules that only become clear later make her question her choices, but leaving her young daughter, Mia, is not an option.
By the time Mia is 15 she has no compunctions about getting out. As books are not allowed in the Community she’s been stealing away to the library for years and hiding books around the farm. Finally, her infractions get to the point where her mother can’t intervene so Mia turns to the local librarian who gets her out of the area and to a friend who allows Mia to stay with her. The only item she brings with her is a library copy of her favorite book, The Scarlet Letter with a mysterious inscription inside that bears her name.
Part One of The Invisible Hour ends abruptly with Part Two set in the 1800s in the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I was wholly invested in the lives of the novel’s two women and the untenable situation they found themselves in, so to be suddenly dropped into the 1830s and the quiet life of a young, reclusive writer, felt like hitting a brick wall at full speed. I understand the connection between Mia, her admiration for the feminist message found in The Scarlet Letter, and its alignment with Hawthorne’s beliefs, but all momentum is lost as The Invisible Hour slows to explore Hawthorne’s personal issues. It isn’t until the third part that the momentum resumes with the two worlds brought together using magic, a Hoffman trademark.
As much as I enjoy Hoffman’s writing this novel is not for everyone. This is a book for our times. It’s blatant in the point it’s trying to make because of the times we’re living in now. Many authors are generating fiction that addresses their fears and outrage. How many books in the last two years have we seen about librarians as heroes and libraries as safe spaces because of the frightening increase in book banning? This is Hoffman using her platform in service to her belief that women should be the only ones making choices about our bodies. I fervently agree with what Hoffman believes and the point she’s driving home, but if your perspective is adamantly different I’d say avoid this novel. There are no specific triggering events, but Hoffman doesn’t parse her words. Unfortunately, the message becomes heavy-handed and while I don’t blame her it did mean The Invisible Hour was not a favorite.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.*