86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
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. This blackbird and its other white descendants seem to hover around the house at other times during the tales as if a witness to everything which happens both to the hoseu and the people who occupy it. In another story we meet Lysander who lost his leg to a giant halibut but finds love and courage with a woman thought to be the witch of Truro. In turn we read story after story of succeeding families who inhabit the house. Violet, who is betrayed by her lover, but then learns to love the local boy and gives birth to seven children eventually traveling to England to bring her orphaned grandson home. And then we meet this grandson all grown home who meets a German Jewish survivor in Germany during WWII and bring her home to meet Violet. How these two very different women come to terms with loving the same man provides readers with a wonderful story of love and jealousy. Finally we meet Emma, a 30 year old who rather lost after her divorce returns to her family's vacation home which she inherits from her parents. But of all of the stories I think it was the story India which rally captivated me the most as a young woman learns about the love her parents had for one another in a rather unusual household during the 60's.
At one time almost every Hoffman book I read I considered a favorite. But recently, being a bit more critical, I came up with the following list which includes Fortune's Daughter, Practical Magic, Seventh Heaven, Green Angel and Turtle Moon. Now to this list I add Blackbird House which takes its rightful place along with the other titles mentioned. If you are reading this review I hope it will encourage you to read Blackbird House or at the very least some of the other titles I have loved. As I often say an even so so book by Alice Hoffman is better than most. And while Blackbird is at times sad and overwhelming there is also much joy and lessons to be learned from within the pages of this book.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
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!
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2004
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).
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2004
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.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Now, I might be a bit prejudiced because I live with 15 parrots and am a wild-bird watcher, but I find this book wonderful. Reading Alice Hoffman's writing is like gazing through a sun-catcher. As the light moves through the colors, it catches your eye and touches your heart in unexpected ways. Ever since her book PRACTICAL MAGIC, Hoffman has lead this reader into a mystical and magical realm where all things are possible, and although truly sad things happen a heartlift is felt at the end if the tale. Hoffman has a deft touch, neither clobbering the reader with too much explanation, nor failing to inform. What happens to the bird? He isn't always black. Do the lovers get together, why yes, you discover a few pages later when their grandchildren tell their story.
Each of the stories in this little book stands alone, yet all are woven into a fabric which includes the threads of singular lives who within the space of a few pages you come to care about. I have read whole novels and not cared for the protagonist or any of the other characters. How can an author be called anything but magical when she can make you care for many people individually wihtin a few paragraphs?
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2005
I'd most like to comment on the story called, "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair." I find this to be the best most close-up of the stories with a deft interplay of the inner world and fears of Violet and the rich and palpable goings-on around her, wherever she is. For example, a man, a stranger to the area and her, has been watching her from a distance at the shore. She is convinced that, from that great distance, he sees her as beautiful, but the closer the view, the uglier she will look to him. When she is introduced, she hides her purple birthmark in the shade of her sun hat. Her attraction to him is palpable, but she can show only a little of her plain face to him at time. All the while the shoreline setting and the movements of the characters are so realistically drawn that you almost feel yourself taken by the hand to walk with these people. Violet guages the man's reactions to her at every step, stunned to discover, little by little, that he is not repulsed by her face. As long as he has not been scared away by her looks, she contrives ways keep him near her. To say what she does would give away too much of the story. In some of the other stories, I felt more like I was watching the characters from a distance and couldn't get as good a sense of how they experience things inwardly, or if I knew what emotion was there, grief, for example, I couldn't understand why they acted out their grief in the ways that they did. In all the stories, though, the sense of place is fantastic. You would think the author had a time machine that took her to each period in 200-year span this book covers.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2004
Every tale in this wonderful collection of short stories by author Alice Hoffman have one thing in common: they all take place in the fictitious Blackbird House on Cape Cod. Set in the historically rich fabric of New England, each story revolves around something magical and yet heart-wrenchingly real. The stories span from the Revolutionary War to modern day, and explore the timeless themes of love, betrayal, devastation, exhilaration, death and life.
Hoffman has a wonderful way of creating captivating stories that come alive with her luminous prose. She reinvents the fairy tale and never fails to create remarkable stories that stay in the reader's heart long after her books have been put down.
BLACKBIRD HOUSE opens with the story of a mother who loses her son and her husband to the angry sea. All she is left with is the house her husband built and the constant cries of a blackbird that was raised by her son. The stories that fill this collection are short, but their themes ring loudly. Hoffman writes about common feelings in a magical and almost ethereal way. Her descriptions for everything from turnips and water to fears and destiny are lyrical and haunting.
Hoffman writes about young lovers, witches, women with heartache, men who navigate the sea, and children who misbehave. She explores every facet of human emotion, both tender and harsh. Many of her stories are symbolically portrayed, while others are just so beautifully written and insightful that they read like poetry. If you have never explored the world through Alice Hoffman's writing, BLACKBIRD HOUSE is an excellent place to start. It gives the reader a wonderful example of just how prolific and talented a writer Alice Hoffman is and how powerfully her writing resonates with her readers. BLACKBIRD HOUSE is a stunning achievement and an unforgettable book.
--- Reviewed by Jocelyn M. Kelley
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
This is the kind of novel only Hoffman can write, full of mystery and the indelible images of people who spend their short time on earth stepping quietly into the pages of the past, as the years speed forward to embrace the future.
The epicenter of each family who lives there, Blackbird House knows each memory, the good and the bad, etched into time as it hovers at the edge of the earth at the Cape, only a mile from the ocean, in a fertile field of trees, wild berries and wildly growing vegetation. From the first family residing there and their travails, Hoffman never shrinks from the realities of life and death. Rather, the house serves as an impassive witness to the fortunes and misfortunes of a succession of families. In such a harsh part of the world, where many men make their living from the sea, families endure their losses, accepting fate or despairing at life's cruelties.
Blackbird House seems to draw an inordinate amount of unhappiness, many lonely, desperate people; yet, in its quiet solitude, the house is an anchor, overflowing with wild growth as if nature would make up in abundance what people have lost. Certainly, there are omens, such as the return of the blackbird pet of a young boy lost at sea, the bird's once black feathers turned white. But omens are, after all, in the perception of the beholder.
Hoffman is an artist, a writer who cannot exist in a land without ambiguity. Her message is one of healing, no matter the damage and compassion for a world that often seems careless of human feelings. Blackbird House is a place of opposites, hope and despair, sadness and happiness and death and renewal. Years of disappointment witness the passage of time, ushering in a new day with the promise of tomorrow. Luan Gaines/2004.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2005
Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors mainly because her work has resonance. When you read an Alice Hoffman book, you cannot help but be moved by the characters, by the situation, and even by the setting. Blackbird House is no different.
The novel weaves the stories of the successive inhabitants of a house in Massachusetts with great skill. The prose is wonderful. While the novel does not have a story or defined plot to speak of, the reader is ensnared by the power of the house and by a genuine interest for all of the inhabitants. Hoffman even makes references to the early generations of the house through the new tenants.
Hoffman makes you believe that we leave a part of ourselves in our homes, and when we move into a house that has been lived in before, the presence of the previous owner's spirit can still be felt. When the book concludes, the reader knows that 5, 10, maybe even 50 years from then, a new person will be living in the house. The house and the lives of those who lived there can never truly be erased.
It's hard to really review this book because its best feature is practically indescribable. It affects you. You read the book, and you are moved by it. Its stories haunt you, and that's why I enjoyed it so much. It definitely is a 5 star rating.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2006
I've read several of Alice Hoffman's books, and have, for the most part, enjoyed them. BLACKBIRD HOUSE is one of my favorites, mainly because the story is weaved through centuries of history, but also because of the magical element that this mysterious Cape Cod cottage has. In short, it's a fun story to read and dream about a house that has inhabitated all types of fascinating people.