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Blackbird House
Alice Hoffman
Vintage, 240 pages

Blackbird House
Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman was born in New York City in 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 was a Mirrellees Fellowship at the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. Her 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 has published more than fifteen novels, two books of short fiction, and six books for children. Her novel, Here On Earth was an Oprah Book Club choice.

Alice Hoffman Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Amal El-Mohtar

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In Cape Cod, there is a small farm compassing a small house, called Blackbird House. It's called that because of the white blackbird -- perhaps a ghost, perhaps not -- that has haunted the house since the eighteenth century. In it, people lose things; people who are lost find things; desire, love, heartbreak and fulfillment chase each other through the rafters and around the fields full of sweet peas, while the house witnesses and keeps their stories. This isn't the tale of one individual or family but of several, whose only link to each other through the years is the house and the grounds surrounding it, as well as the traces of themselves they leave behind.

The book opens up in the mid-17th century and begins with the story of Coral Hadley, whose husband, John, builds the house itself. Settling in Cape Cod after a life at sea, John Hadley intends to trade fishing for farming, to give his wife and children a home on land. When tragedy befalls the Hadleys, however, it is Coral who develops the farm into what it will be, and her family's story that gives the house its name. From there, the book spans three hundred years of the house's history, as wars and families move around and through it. We meet Ruth Blackbird Hill, called the Witch of Truro because of her red boots; Larkin Howard, whose hands will never be less red than the cranberries he has farmed all his life; Lion West Jr., a soldier who finds himself torn between the two women he loves best in the world. The only constant is Blackbird House, which never loses its name, even when Coral Hadley has become Cora, and her story has become a legend subtly threaded through the experiences of those who come after her.

If you're unfamiliar with Alice Hoffman's work, you should know that her prose is lucid, sensuous and magical, her characters real, complex and complete, and her stories always imbued with a charm entirely her own. Blackbird House is a good introduction to and a perfect example of her style, often tagged as "magical realism." She takes fantastical elements -- a three-hundred pound halibut that bites off a man's leg, cows that give milk so sweet and filling that one cup will slake a day's thirst -- and weaves them into psychological realities so honest and compelling that one must believe the fantasy is truer than the fact.

If you are familiar with Hoffman's work, you should know that Blackbird House takes her skill a step further, that each story stands on its own and is as complete in itself as ripe fruit. Like many of her books, this one will make you crave things, whether they be sweet peas or milk, honeycomb or salt air. There are cranberries, crimson pears and blood-red boots to be found within; women named Violet, Garnet and Ruby; brothers, sisters and snatches of whale-song. It is a beautiful book that will quite likely move you to tears for a different reason each time you read it.

Copyright © 2006 Amal El-Mohtar

Amal has a history of reading anything with pages. Now, she reads stuff online, too. She sometimes does other things, but that's mainly it.


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