|Kristin Hannah is Queen of the Women’s Fiction Weepers, and in Magic Hour she manages to ratchet up the tears another notch by jeopardizing the growing bond between a lonely therapist and a traumatized young girl. Los Angeles child psychiatrist Julia Cates finds herself without a career after a public scandal ruins her reputation. A workaholic with few friends and no love life, Julia is completely devastated. Then she gets a surprising summons from her older sister Ellie, who still lives in their Pacific Northwest hometown of Rain Valley. Former prom queen Ellie is now the police chief, and she desperately needs Julia’s help. A mysterious young girl has walked out of the forest into the town square. She can climb trees like a monkey, she won’t let go of the wolf pup in her arms, and she turns into a wild animal whenever approached. She appears to have been the victim of physical abuse, but she won’t – or can’t – speak to tell Ellie who she is or where she belongs.
Julia’s self-confidence is at an all-time low, but she agrees to come to Rain Valley and treat the girl while Ellie scours local and national missing children reports. Julia initially thinks that this case might help restore her professional credibility, but she also becomes deeply and personally involved in the Wolf Girl’s life. With round-the-clock care, Julia starts to connect to the girl she now calls Alice, but even as she grows to love the child, she knows that once Ellie uncovers the mystery of her parentage Julia will lose her. But when her worst fears are realized, the decision to let go is far from clear cut, and Julia realizes she has to fight, for Alice’s sake as well as for her own.
As always, Hannah’s considerable writing talents move the story along quickly. You’d have to be made of stone to not be affected by Alice’s situation, especially during the short sections written from her primitive point of view. Despite the horrors she has endured (which are largely implied), she manages to adapt to civilization and attach herself to Julia. It’s certainly predictable that Julia and Alice will face gut-wrenching separation and then have a dramatic reunion, but that’s why we read this brand of Women’s Fiction.
I wish the other relationships in the book had been developed with more depth, however. Ellie and Julia aren’t exactly estranged, but they’re not close either. Growing up, Ellie was the popular one and Julia was the odd, smart one. Now, living and working together to help Alice, they finally have a chance to connect, but a lot of the background that the author provides about the sweet mother and flamboyant father who raised and shaped the sisters is dropped without further exploration. Hannah also gives short shrift to an interesting romance for the oft-married Ellie in favor of the plodding love affair between Julia and the town doctor, a handsome recluse with his own tragedy to overcome. Their relationship isn’t even necessary; it’s obvious that the real love story is between the would-be mother and child.
The book’s back cover proclaims Magic Hour to be “Hannah’s most ambitious novel to date,” and while it’s true that she’s never explored the inner thoughts of a feral child before, there’s little else new about the plot. If you like Hannah’s sentimental stories you won’t be disappointed. If you need more bite in your fiction, this isn’t your best bet.