Thursday, August 12, 2010

At Risk by Alice Hoffman

(In which it’s good enough to remind.)

With rose wallpaper and a wooden border of photo frame as its cover, Alice Hoffman’s novel At Risk implicitly promises a nostalgic read perhaps about whose face was once enclosed by the frame. But the pages bearing the “promise” were more than a violation than a fulfillment.

The novel took off with a scene with a family spotting a wasp in the kitchen. Then the problem was introduced when eleven-year-old Amanda was tested positive for AIDS back when the disease was just starting to be known. And then the conflict emerged when the community that the family once thought was perfect collapsed into a neighborhood of overly-protective and panicky parents, cruel and equally panicky children and an unforgiving media. Amanda’s family not only struggled to keep a normal life. They also tried to make their family and a young girl’s dreams alive while painstakingly waiting for the inevitable.
The author used an omniscient narrator to tell the story of a family and a community confronted by a diagnosis. Having access to every characters thoughts and feelings was supposed to bring the characters closer to the readers but instead, it strangely made the novel a group of distant people whose only connection is the relationship or acquaintance with a sick girl. When every character was meant to revolve around her, they all live a life of their own. They are living their almost reclusive life until Amanda’s sickness (or perhaps even after) reaches its terminal stage, which was more or less 20 pages away from the ending. Not only is the method of storytelling isn’t always successful in delivering the expected sadness. It was also made more confusing, to say the least, by the preponderance of the characters’ first and last names in places where there ought to be pronouns.
Given this plot and narration, it is no longer surprising that the characters exhibited little development. There’s a wide array of characters outside the family’s circle: the doctor (and his family), the grandparents, Amanda’s coach and best friend, Amanda’s mother’s friend (and her family), the medium and another AIDS patient. But as the novel comes to an end, readers might wonder what happened to them and why they’re only presented as if in passing. The ending itself seems more of a subtle display of exhaustion from writing than actually reaching the story’s finality.
But regardless of all these, it is undeniable that the other major purpose of the novel is to create awareness about a lethal disease. For that top materialize, the author shows the frailty of the human heart and soul when struck hard. Likewise, it shows how a child’s vision of life could enlighten people. That someone lives life to the fullest despite the knowledge that death is ironically a breath away, making everyone and everything at risk.


This novel constantly reminds me of the Japanese series One Liter of Tears due to both the positive and negative aspects of the book that I’m planning to post a smackdown between the two. But first I have to secure a new copy of the series. Tell me what you think.

For now, on with another art fiction.

Currently reading:

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

Photo source:
The Painted Kiss