Alice Hoffman

"Blackbird House"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer DEC 19, 2004)

John Hadley, a Cape Cod fisherman, loved his wife Coral so much that he built her a farm. He wanted her to have a strong and safe house, and promised her, after this one last voyage, that he would stay home and concentrate on farming turnips. He took with him his two sons, and a small blackbird that was his youngest son’s pet. This is the first tragedy of the book: the first of these to return is the blackbird, its feathers are now as white as death. Coral plants sweet peas, yards of them, waiting for her family to return, refusing to believe they won’t.

The second is in the next tale, when a young woman looses her family and then her home, until a pair of women from the village convince her to go to the old Hadley farm, where a man who lost his leg to a halibut lives quietly, blacksmithing. The two fall in love, and to prove his love the man goes and gets her a pear tree that will bring forth scarlet fruit. In the next story we learn more of that love as their daughter must make an impossible decision. And on it goes, the farm passing from one person to another, some finding hope, some finding love, among a place where sweet peas grow wild like weeds, were a tree grows scarlet fruit, and a blackbird, white as snow, haunts the place still.

The stories are real, but not solidly realistic, they take on a folkloric, magical quality that makes the prose that tells them magical, almost rhythmic, too. We know that a man, bitten by a halibut, is probably not going to cough up teeth from the monster years later, but Lysander does, “Those teeth had gone right through him, it seemed. He could feel them, cold, silvery things.” Hoffman has a beautiful way with words, combining magic and the deepest of truths. One phrase I particularly liked was in a later story: “Dorey seemed perfectly at ease with no clothes on. Anything she had to hide was deep inside.”

The main thing that connects this story is not just the farm, but love. Every story discusses love, a different aspect of it, a different kind. In one story, a women loves the wrong man, then realizes who her real love is...and in the story after that, her love for her son is, in itself, a powerful force. Love can destroy, in some ways, such as when a husband dies, and nothing can console, or, it can force you to change your whole self, perhaps take a path that you shouldn't have. Love is patient...Coral Hadley, with her grim insistence that her husband will come home, proves that. There’s not just the love for the person you perceive as your soul mate, but also for your children, even if they aren‘t your own flesh. One particularly effective story is about a girl who is about to abandon her child, and the man who stops her. The eventual sacrifices both make are touching and surprising. The last story is not about love for another, but love and acceptance of yourself.

A small volume filled with lovely, interconnecting stories, it carries a high emotional impact.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 70 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Blackbird House at RandomHouse.com



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About the Author:

Alice HoffmanAlice Hoffman was born in 1952 New York City and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing.

Her first story was published when she was 21 and still studying at Stanford. Ms. Hoffman’s novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. All of the author’s advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, were donated to help create a breast cancer center outside of Boston.

Ms. Hoffman's work has been published in more than 20 languages and more than 100 foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. Ms. Hoffman has also worked as a screenwriter for many years and is the author of the original screenplay Independence Day, a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Weist. Hoffman’s short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, Boulevard, Redbook, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Premier, Self, Southwestern Review and many other magazines.

She lives with her husband (Tom Martin), two sons and three dogs in an old Victorian house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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