Turtle Moon (Hoffman)

Turtle Moon
Alice Hoffman, 1992
Penguin Group USA
291 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780425161289

Turtle Moon transports the listener to Verity, Florida, a place where anything can happen during the month of May, when migrating sea turtles come to town, mistaking the glow of the streetlights for the moon.

A young single mother is murdered in her apartment and her baby is gone. Keith, a 12-year-old boy in the same apartment building—the self-styled "meanest boy" in town—also disappears. In pursuit of the baby, the boy and the killer, are Keith's divorced mother and a cop who himself was once considered the meanest boy in town.

Their search leads them down the humid byways of a Florida populated almost exclusively by people from somewhere else; emotional refugees seeking sanctuary along the swampy coast. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—March 16, 1952
Where—New York, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Adelphi Univ.; M.A., Stanford Univ.
Currently—lives in Boston, Massachusetts

Born in the 1950s to college-educated parents who divorced when she was young, Alice Hoffman was raised by her single, working mother in a blue-collar Long Island neighborhood. Although she felt like an outsider growing up, she discovered that these feelings of not quite belonging positioned her uniquely to observe people from a distance. Later, she would hone this viewpoint in stories that captured the full intensity of the human experience.

After high school, Hoffman went to work for the Doubleday factory in Garden City. But the eight-hour, supervised workday was not for her, and she quit before lunch on her first day! She enrolled in night school at Adelphi University, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She went on to attend Stanford University's Creative Writing Center on a Mirrellees Fellowship. Her mentor at Stanford, the great teacher and novelist Albert Guerard, helped to get her first story published in the literary magazine Fiction. The story attracted the attention of legendary editor Ted Solotaroff, who asked if she had written any longer fiction. She hadn't — but immediately set to work. In 1977, when Hoffman was 25, her first novel, Property Of, was published to great fanfare.

Since that remarkable debut, Hoffman has carved herself a unique niche in American fiction. A favorite with teens as well as adults, she renders life's deepest mysteries immediately understandable in stories suffused with magic realism and a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility. (In a 1994 article for the New York Times, interviewer Ruth Reichl described the magic in Hoffman's books as a casual, regular occurrence — "...so offhand that even the most skeptical reader can accept it.") Her characters' lives are transformed by uncontrollable forces — love and loss, sorrow and bliss, danger and death.

Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick, but even without Winfrey's powerful endorsement, her books have become huge bestsellers—including three that have been adapted for the movies: Practical Magic (1995), The River King (2000), and her YA fable Aquamarine (2001).

Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor; and like many people who consider themselves blessed with luck, she believes strongly in giving back. For this reason, she donated her advance from her 1999 short story collection Local Girls to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA

From a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview:

• Hoffman has written a number of children's books, including Fireflies: A Winter's Tale (1999), Horsefly (2000), and Moondog (2004).

Aquamarine was written for Hoffman's best friend, Jo Ann, who dreamed of the freedom of mermaids as she battled brain cancer.

Here on Earth is a modern version of Hoffman's favorite novel, Wuthering Heights.

• Hoffman has been honored with the Massachusetts Book Award for her teen novel Incantation.

When asked what books most influenced her life or career, here's what she said:

Edward Eager's brilliant series of suburban magic: Half Magic, Magic by the Lake, Magic or Not, Knight's Castle, The Time Garden, Seven-Day Magic, The Well Wishers. Anything by Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, J. D. Salinger, Grace Paley. My favorite book: Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
True to form, Ms. Hoffman relates [the novel's] events with such easy fluency that the reader is quickly enveloped in her story; it's like sinking into a rocking chair and being gently seduced by the movement and rhythm. Ms. Hoffman's facility as a writer, however, only temporarily disguises the highly contrived nature of a plot propelled by implausible coincidences. These developments—combined with a series of cute, supernatural events that are never organically integrated into the overall narrative—eventually undermine the novel's emotional power: the reader finishes the book feeling vaguely manipulated, and hence detached from the characters' fates. The result is a book that's entertaining enough to read, but lacking in significant emotional afterlife.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

Once charmed into one of Ms. Hoffman's stories about the intersection of wounded people who seek to learn where and how to give their love, the reader can't help searching for a happy ending as eagerly as Alice Hoffman's characters labor to achieve it.... In Turtle Moon, her latest work, Ms. Hoffman writes quite wonderfully about the magic in our lives and in the battered, indifferent world. I don't know that she's written better.
Frederick Busch - New York Times Book Review

Combining aspects of a suspense thriller and a romance, and including such surefire elements as an abandoned baby, a youngster on the verge of juvenile delinquency who is reformed, two dogs and a supernatural character who provides the requisite touch of fantasy, Hoffman's new novel has commercial success written all over it. But some readers will fail to find the enchantment provided in such previous works as Illumination Night and Seventh Heaven. The town of Verity, Fla., starts to steam up in May, when the humidity and temperature soar. (Among the things readers must accept is the dreadful, oppressive May heat; one is tempted to ask, if it's so unbearable in May, how do people live through the summer?) Verity is full of divorcees, and when one of them is murdered, Keith Rosen, "Verity's meanest 12-year-old," finds her baby, who was in fact the object of an aborted kidnapping, and runs away, instinctively hiding the threatened child. This development brings together Keith's divorced mother, Lucy, and the town's surly policeman, Julian Cash, a loner with a tragedy in his past. Despite the murder and a stalking assassin, this is really a fairy tale: Keith bonds with the baby and tames a vicious dog ("No one has ever known him the way this dog does"); a ghost/angel falls in love and brings redemption to Julian, and several people begin new lives. Hoffman lards her slick plot with ponderously sentimental observations, the kind of bromides that could be embroidered on a pillow. But she knows how to manipulate suspense and tug the heartstrings; with its cinematic flow and larger-than-life characters, her novel will make a wonderful movie.
Publishers Weekly

A mix of murder and magic in the Florida sunshine as only Hoffman (Seventh Heaven, 1990, etc.) could conjure it. Verity, Florida, once known for live alligators, is now better known for alligator salads (a mix of spinach, peppers, avocado and chopped eggs, tinted green), as well as for having more divorced women from New York than any other town in the state of Florida. Lucy Rosen is one of those women. She has recently moved to Verity, and what she doesn't know yet is that in May, when the turtles come out and crawl across the roads, anything can happen. People go crazy. Dogs bite. Ficus hedges burst into flame. This particular May, a woman in Lucy's condo complex is murdered, her baby is missing, and Lucy's own son, Keith, has vanished as well. With the assistance of Julian Cash, a reclusive Verity policeman, Lucy sets out to find out who committed the murder and what has become of the missing children. The fact that the ultimate resolution of these mysteries is only partly plausible doesn't really matter in the end. Because Hoffman's strength is that she deals in dreams. She knows all about the everyday things that defy simple explanations—lovers who suddenly turn cold, turtles who mistake streetlights for the moon. The Florida she paints here is not the one promoted by any chamber of commerce. With a climate that is both mesmerizing and malignant, it is a place where dragonflies' wings catch fire and strangler plums drop down from trees, leaving dents in parked cars. It is a place where rattlesnakes crawl into telephone booths and angels lurk outside the Burger King. It's a place where anything might happen. And, naturally, it does. Pure Hoffman: her take on the tropics is haunting, hypnotic, and hot as a fever dream.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Turtle Moon:

1. Hoffman presents us with two deeply troubled males, 12-year-old Keith and adult Julian. What do they have in common? What has caused Keith's anger and Julian's anguish? Is history destiny for these two people—for all of us?

2. Why does Keith run off with the baby?

3. Talk about Lucy Rosen. What kind of woman is she? Why can't she seem to penetrate her son's anger? Why has she left her husband in New York, and what is she seeking in Verity? In fact, what are all the divorced women in Verity seeking or running from?

4. Talk about the characters—both major and minor ones. Whom do you find especially appealing or sympathetic?

5. Whose ghost is in the tree outside Burger King? Why is it there? And how does it eventually bring redemption to Julian?

6. Hoffman believes in a magical world and wants her readers to experience it. Talk about what Hoffman means by "magic" and how she injects it into this novel. What role do signs and wonders play in the book; in other words, how do they affect characters and events? Do you enjoy her use of the fantastic...or find it off-putting? Either way, why?

7. Hoffman has said that the landscape and weather of Florida, inspired her to write Turtle Moon—the fictional Verity became the first character in her novel. What might she mean—how can setting be character?

8. Talk about the role of the dogs in this story? Why is Arrow important to Keith? What do you think about the finale, especially Arrow's fate?

9. Find and discuss passages in the book that you feel express some truth or poignancy or humor. These, for instance:

There is, after all, strong brown soap for poison ivy, iodine for cuts and bruises, mud for bee stings, honey for sore throats, chalky white casts for broken bones. But where is the cure for meanness of spirit?

The air all around the town limits is so thick that sometimes a soul cannot rise and instead attaches itself to a stranger, landing right between the shoulder blades with a thud that carries no more weight than a hummingbird.

He cried so hard that when he finished there was a pile of tiny pebbles at his feet.

10. What is the thematic significance of the book's title? What do turtles mistaking street lights for the moon have to do with the events of the novel? In other words, how do the turtles' movements express an underlying meaning of the novel?

11. How about the ending—what do characters learn by the end, how do they bind up their wounds? Is the ending satisfying or not?

12. If you've read other books by Alice Hoffman, how does this one compare?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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