With "incantatory prose" that "sweeps over the reader like a dream," (Philadelphia Inquirer), Hoffman follows her celebrated bestseller The Probable Future, with an evocative work that traces the lives of the various occupants of an old Massachusetts house over a span of two hundred years.
Prolific novelist Hoffman (The Probable Future; Blue Diary; etc.) offers 12 lush and lilting interconnected stories, all taking place in the same Cape Cod farmhouse over the course of generations. Built during British colonial days by a man who dies tragically on a final fishing trip, Blackbird House is home, in the following generation, to a man who lost his leg to a giant halibut. In the late 19th century, Blackbird inhabitant Violet Cross has a brief affair with a Harvard scholar who inevitably betrays her; in the story that follows, she pushes her son, Lion West, to Harvard in 1908, which in turn launches him to life-and early death-in England. Lion's orphaned son, Lion West Jr., serves in World War II and meets a German-Jewish woman spirited enough to stand up to his possessive grandmother Violet. Hoffman's symbols are lovingly presented and polished: the 10-year-old boy who drowned with his father in the first story sets free a pet blackbird, who returns, now all white, to live with the boy's mother; in the last two stories, a 10-year-old boy blames a white crow for his mischief, and, a generation later, that boy's grown-up sister meets a 10-year-old boy who makes her reconsider selling Blackbird House. Fire, water, milk, pears, halibut-these, too, play important symbolic and sometimes almost magical roles. This may not be the subtlest of literary devices, but Hoffman's lyrical prose weaves an undeniable spell. Agent, Elaine Markson. (Aug. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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1 . Lovely weave
Posted April 05, 2011 by Colleen , OttawaAlice Hoffman weaves through decades of life in a single property. The story line from generation to generation feels like you're looking through a photo album with a beautiful narration. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
July 19, 2004
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Excerpt from Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
It was said that boys should go on their first sea voyage at the age of ten, but surely this notion was never put forth by anyone's mother. If the bay were to be raised one degree in temperature for every woman who had lost the man or child she loved at sea, the water would have boiled, throwing off steam even in the dead of winter, poaching the bluefish and herrings as they swam.
Every May, the women in town gathered at the wharf. No matter how beautiful the day, scented with new grass or spring onions, they found themselves wishing for snow and ice, for gray November, for December's gales and land-locked harbors, for fleets that returned, safe and sound, all hands accounted for, all boys grown into men. Women who had never left Massachusetts dreamed of the Middle Banks and the Great Banks the way some men dreamed of hell: The place that could give you everything you might need and desire. The place that could take it all away.
This year the fear of what might be was worse than ever, never mind gales and storms and starvation and accidents, never mind rum and arguments and empty nets. This year the British had placed an embargo on the ships of the Cape. No one could go in or out of the harbor, except unlawfully, which is what the fishermen in town planned to do come May, setting off on moonless nights, a few sloops at a time, with the full knowledge that every man caught would be put to death for treason and every boy would be sent to Dartmoor Prison in England--as good as death, people in town agreed, but colder and some said more miserable.
Most people made their intentions known right away, those who would go and those who would stay behind to man the fort beside Long Pond if need be, a battle station that was more of a cabin than anything, but at least it was something solid to lean against should a man have to take aim and fire. John Hadley was among those who wanted to stay. He made that clear, and everyone knew he had his reasons. He had just finished the little house in the hollow that he'd been working on with his older son, Vincent, for nearly three years. During this time, John Hadley and Vincent had gone out fishing each summer, searching out bluefish and halibut, fish large enough so that you could fill up your catch in a very short time. John's sloop was small, his desires were few: he wanted to give his wife this house, nothing fancy, but carefully made all the same, along with the acreage around it, a meadow filled with wild grapes and winterberry. Wood for building was hard to come by, so John had used old wrecked boats for the joists, deadwood he'd found in the shipyard, and when there was none of that to be had, he used fruitwood he'd culled from his property, though people insisted applewood and pear wouldn't last. There was no glass in the windows, only oiled paper, but the light that came through was dazzling and yellow; little flies buzzed in and out of the light, and everything seemed slow, molasses slow, lovesick slow.
John Hadley felt a deep love for his wife, Coral, more so than anyone might guess. He was still tongue-tied in her presence, and he had the foolish notion that he could give her something no other man could. Something precious and lasting and hers alone. It was the house he had in mind whenever he looked at Coral. This was what love was to him: when he was at sea he could hardly sleep without the feel of her beside him. She was his anchor, she was his home; she was the road that led to everything that mattered to John Hadley.