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Blackbird House: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – March 29, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School - In this collection of tales, Hoffman takes readers into the lives of the people who lived in Blackbird House from the time of the American Revolution to the present. The house, on a farm on Cape Cod, has a haunting presence throughout the book. In addition to ghost sightings, there are touches of magical realism (a white blackbird, blood-red pears - the color of witchcraft, "crying turnips"). However, it is the characters themselves, their stories and their relationships with others, that are the most compelling. Among them are Violet, a voracious reader, greedy for knowledge and betrayed by the love of her life, whose "fierce love" continues to influence the lives of her son and grandson; Jamie, a boy helping his neighbor deal with the consequences of a secret that everyone has known - and ignored - for years; Emma, a leukemia survivor, wishing to become the person she might have been if she hadn't been so ill as a child. The residents of Blackbird House experience deep sorrow and personal loss, but they also endure due to the power of love. Many of the characters are between the ages of 10 and 30, which will add to the book's appeal for young adults. - Sandy Freund, Richard Byrd Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (March 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345455932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345455932
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 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. She currently lives in Boston and New York.

Hoffman's first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff's magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of eighteen novels, two books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte's masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Her advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman (Women's Cancer) Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman's recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. In January 2007, Skylight Confessions, a novel about one family's secret history, was released on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Her first novel. Her most recent novel is The Story Sisters (2009), published by Shaye Areheart Books.

Hoffman's work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred 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. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay "Independence Day" a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, Redbook, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Self, and other magazines. Her teen novel Aquamarine was recently made into a film starring Emma Roberts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Nancy R. Katz VINE VOICE on August 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
On Cape Cod sits a white house surrounded by Massachusetts vegetation and farm land. It could be any New England home, but if you look closely this home is the setting for Alice Hoffman's newest book, Blackbird House.As a long time reader of Alice Hoffman's books, I looked forward to her latest title with much anticipation. And now that I've read this book, I found it to be another one of Alice Hoffman's best books.

Blackbird House is a series of interconnected short stories. While they can surely be read one at a time, if they are read together loosely as a novel they will provide most readers with another of Ms. Hoffman's books steeped in wonderful characterizations and magic realism. Every sense is awakened as one digests her flowing words. We feel her characters joys and losses, revel in her descriptions of nature and animals and hope for a good outcome for her characters lives as they unfold before our eyes. With the house as a backdrop and one of her most endearing characters, Ms. Hoffman provides her readers with pages filled with unusual people, magical places and events which challenge the emotions of the human heart. So entranced was I by some of the passages and stories, I was forced to close the book for a few minutes and take deep breaths before I could go on to read more..

As we read we come to learn of the history of Blackbird House from over 200 years ago. We first meet the builder of the house John Hadley, a fisherman during Revolutionary times who builds the house as a monument to the endearing love he has for his wife. When he goes off to sea with his two young sons, a blackbird, the youngest son's pet accompanies them and returns to the house now totally white after disaster strikes.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Alice Hoffman is a conjurer of prose. She understands human frailty, vulnerability, self-conscious loathing of birth abnormalities, the need for feeling love, and other acts of living. She writes about New England as well as anyone writing today - her pages are filled with visual stimuli that hang so closely to the retina that though they are often repeated (the color red as embodied by pears, berries, blood, leather, etc.), each repetition serves only to magnify the original richness of impulse. BLACKBIRD HOUSE spans 200 odd years of life on Cape Cod, and while many are calling the chapters 'essays' or 'short stories', they seem more like a cohesive novel about the land and the endurance of the sea and time than anything so disjointed as individual stories. Each of the chapters is connected and it is this connection of odd characters and their progeny that propels the reader nonstop from the early days of the colonies to the present. Hoffman creates dark characters: pain, bruise, emotional devastation and fate are woven like a continuing tapestry, passed from generation to generation. The seeds of all the characters, no matter from where they may be speaking (from the Cape, Boston, London, etc) all are firmly planted in the sweet peas, nettles and bramble that surround the sturdy house that makes the title. Here are witching, blackbirds that become white like ghosts, the ocean, and every type of family dysfunctional unit imaginable. BLACKBIRD HOUSE is not unlike the magical realism of our Latin American writers, but with a thoroughly American twist that makes it even more delicious! An excellent book, this!
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Diana Poskrop on October 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Because I think I have.

If you're looking for a book with a well-defined plot and clear-cut characters, this isn't it.

BLACKBIRD HOUSE has no sharp edges. Rather, it's about blurred boundaries between water and land, organs and skin, love and hate, life and death, conscious and subconscious. The inner and the outer. Seeming contradictions that come to make perfect sense.

It's about different ways people can be lost (`at sea'), find home (even if they've been there all along), shape their lives or let circumstance take over, love, die, be wounded, heal.

Alice Hoffman skillfully maneuvers a thin line, finding a balance between the limited part of existence about which our senses inform us, and what lies beyond ordinary senses. She's created a place where everything has meaning, though that's not necessarily a comforting thing; it's simply what is.

Although it has what may seem to be fantastical touches, BH is not a fantasy, nor is it a New Age-y, feel-good read. It's about aspects of reality some shrug off as imagination, a trick of light or last night's bad clams.

If you give BLACKBIRD HOUSE half a chance, you'll find its truth and beauty -- the type of truth and beauty that are as likely to prick as they are to placate.

Threads of metaphor abound: red and red-related colors, black, fish, birds, snow, cold, feet, cows, milk. And of course the blackbird (which isn't, really).
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By niia on September 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I find Alice Hoffman to be completely unique because her world is a multi-layered, intertwined place where the fish in the pond, the birds and stars in the sky, the leaves on the trees and the people that inhabit the spaces between them make up a landscape that I cannot compare to anything else I have read. This book takes her sensibility and uses it in a new way.

Writing teachers always try to get you to tie up loose ends which I think is not always real. In this book, Alice Hoffman ties up some loose ends and leaves others hanging in an extremely intriguing way. I like this quality because it is more true to life. The book tells the stories of the many who have lived in one house over a period of close to 200 years. Some of the characters of Blackbird House intersect and conclude. Others, as in real life, are left open ended. Each character is original and intriguing. The writing is evocative, rich and unique to the gifts of one of the few modern writers that has carved out a place where no one else has gone. Blackbird House is a quick, satisfying, rich read. Don't miss it.
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