Atmospheric, moody and evocative—these words describe Alice Hoffman’s latest achievement, The Marriage of Opposites. And that is no accident, because they also accurately describe the 19th-century artistic movement known as Impressionism, founded by Camille Pissarro, the third son Rachel Pomié bore to her second husband, Frédérick. (Altogether, Rachel had nine children, an accomplishment for any heroine, but Rachel is a strong character.)
Hoffman tells the story of the painter’s life through the drama of his mother’s concerns. The story takes place first on the island of St. Thomas, where Rachel is caught up in the drama of her scandalous second marriage and the troubles facing her best friend, Jestine. Later, the family (or some of it) returns to their home country of France, a long-held dream for these French-Jewish exiles.
One would think that after 30-odd books, Hoffman might have exhausted her glossary, but The Marriage of Opposites is a treasure trove of expression, color on color and emotion on emotion. Fittingly for a book about an artist, color is never far from the spotlight. Pissarro is “greedy for all the color in the world,” and remembers November on the island, when “the dusk sifted down like black powder.” Nature claims its fair share of the vocabulary—trees and birds and hills—and Hoffman seems always up to the task of freshly describing the latest artistic excitement.
Doing justice to the individuals in her tale is harder to accomplish—being real people, they must be unmistakably specific, sometimes in off-putting ways. Still, somehow Hoffman manages this as well, spinning a fresh tale of human error and achievement. This subject has found the right author at the right time, and no one who reads this story will forget it.