Pissarro World : Alice Hoffman – “The Marriage of Opposites”

Camille Pissarro was the honorably bearded elder statesman overseeing the Impressionist movement through its eight major exhibitions from 1876 to 1884. He counseled practically every French exponent of the movement (and its Post-Impressionist aftermath) as well as selected foreigners – such as Vincent Van Gogh. Presumably, Parisian galleries would have been left poorer without his presence, had Pissarro spent his whole life sharing the shadow of a palm tree with his parents in the island idyll of St. Thomas, where he was born.

Above: Self-Portrait, with Beard.

Those parents, Frederick and Rachel Pomie, were engaged in a minor tropical scandal that comprises the bulk of Alice Hoffman’s “The Marriage of Opposites.”

Unwarranted, inexplicable comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in several major review sites led me to this “magical realist” romance. No, not every story set south of the Continental U.S. needs to be accused of “magical realism.” After racking my brains, I figured what the reviewers mean is that the novel’s COVER reminded them of Isabel Allende’s “Portrait in Sepia,” and Allende IS fairly famous for her Marquez impersonations. (I welcome any alternate theories as to why Hoffman’s flat-yet-overwritten Harlequin romance should be compared to the Colombian winner of the Nobel prize.)

ABOVE: Painting by Numbers

ABOVE: Seeing double!

“The Marriage of Opposites” has many little sins: no emotion is left unexplained (twice, if possible); the characters are modern to a fault; at least one plot twist is so obvious that when it is “revealed” the reader should feel insulted; and there’s a nearly total failure to accurately capture Caribbean folklore (no, werewolves are NOT a big part of tropical superstition; save all that fur for frosty Europe.)

But I doubt the novel’s target audience will care. They’re looking for a familiarly framed romance daubed with historical edutainment, and the book’s first half provides that. Sure, Rachel Pomie may be a familiar Jane-Eyre-type, but no one who picks this up would demand otherwise. It’s in the second half, when Pissarro’s upbringing takes over the picture, that “The Marriage of Opposites” turns into a hasty, unconvincing, eye-wounding sketch.

That’s when even Hoffman’s most assiduous fans might want to sue for a divorce.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH for Hoffman fans, MEH for me.

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