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Everything My Mother Taught Me was an atmospheric short historical fiction story that was deceptively simple to read and yet conveyed so much with so few words. As someone who doesn’t read many short stories, I found myself wishing for this one to be extended in to a full length novel. There are some short stories that can convey everything you’d want and need in a short span of words. Unfortunately, I think the quality of this story was sacrificed by making it short.
The sacrifice in making this emotionally-packed story short was the lack of detail and connection with events and characters, respectively. If this had been a full length novel (my bias is very present here, so please bear that in mind) I imagine I’d have fallen head over heels in emotional love for Hoffman’s latest work.
In this haunting short story of loyalty and betrayal, a young woman in early 1900s Massachusetts discovers that in navigating her treacherous coming-of-age, she must find her voice first.
For fatefully observant Adeline, growing up carries an ominous warning from her adulterous mother: don’t say a word. Adeline vows to never speak again. But that’s not her only secret. After her mother takes a housekeeping job at a lighthouse off the tip of Cape Ann, a local woman vanishes. The key to the mystery lies with Adeline, the silent witness.
“There are those who insist that mothers are born with love for their children and place them before all other things, including their own needs and desires. This was not the case with us.”
- Adeline, named after French soap, had suffered a neglectful life at the hands of her selfish adulterating mother, after the death of her beloved father. Their journey to the seaside Lighthouse town in New England was evidence of the first opportunity for Adeline to truly be happy since the passing of her father. My heart ached for the compounded loss of her father and childhood home all in one fell swoop. The story’s premise was beautifully portrayed in events and insights in to Adeline’s psyche. I would have been very happy staying there for another 200 pages.
- The writing, while odd and not a usual favourite of mine, was compelling in its simplistic nature. Told in past tense, with the inclusion of frequent foreshadowing, this story was unlike one I had read in a very long time. The combination of these two features may seem unappealing to read but Hoffman’s style was captivating. The lack of dialogue, as a result of Adeline’s selective mutism wasn’t a blinding loss throughout the story.
- The ending of this story was deeply satisfying. Hoffman managed to get the perfect balance between just deserts and HEA.
- The shortened length of this book made the story, while still highly intriguing, feel rushed. This is one that would have thrived as a full length historical novel. The lyrical descriptions of nature and the rural New England setting were reminiscent of Where the Crawdads Sing’s writing by Delia Owens and it genuinely felt like a loss to not give the author free reign to explore and enchant us further with the beautiful setting.
- The side characters felt (mostly) two dimensional due to a lack of opportunity to develop and establish their personalities further. This could have been a result of the lack of dialogue or a spotlighted focus on each character. It felt like the other lighthouse keepers and their family were only there to set the backdrop for Adeline’s story without truly contributing to it.
- Some further insight in to Adeline’s selective mutism would have added an extra layer (that wasn’t entirely required) of depth to the story. Her father’s death was named as the catalyst but other than that there wasn’t much explanation on the development of it or the establishment of alternative forms of communication.
Overall, Everything My Mother Taught Me was an atmospheric read that captured my attention and left me satisfied right through to the end. A few changes in length or description of characters could have made this an exceptional story to never forget. I plan to read the remainder of Hoffman’s Inheritance Short Story Collection to compare.