Summary and book reviews of Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

Blackbird House

By Alice Hoffman

Blackbird House
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2004,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2005,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

In a rare and gorgeous departure, beloved novelist Alice Hoffman weaves a web of tales, all set in Blackbird House. This small farm on the outer reaches of Cape Cod is a place that is as bewitching and alive as the characters we meet: Violet, a brilliant girl who is in love with books and with a man destined to betray her; Lysander Wynn, attacked by a halibut as big as a horse, certain that his life is ruined until a boarder wearing red boots arrives to change everything; Maya Cooper, who does not understand the true meaning of the love between her mother and father until it is nearly too late. From the time of the British occupation of Massachusetts to our own modern world, family after family’s lives are inexorably changed, not only by the people they love but by the lives they lead inside Blackbird House.

These interconnected narratives are as intelligent as they are haunting, as luminous as they are unusual. Inside Blackbird House more than a dozen men and women learn how love transforms us and how it is the one lasting element in our lives. The past both dissipates and remains contained inside the rooms of Blackbird House, where there are terrible secrets, inspired beauty, and, above all else, a spirit of coming home.

From the writer Time has said tells "truths powerful enough to break a reader’s heart" comes a glorious travelogue through time and fate, through loss and love and survival. Welcome to Blackbird House.

The Edge of the World
I.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In a rare and gorgeous departure, beloved novelist Alice Hoffman weaves a web of tales all set in Blackbird House. This small farm on the outer reaches of Cape Cod is a place that is as bewitching and alive as the characters we meet: Violet, a brilliant girl who is in love with books and with a man destined to betray her; Lysander Wynn, attacked by a halibut as big as a horse, certain that his life is ruined until a boarder wearing red boots arrives to change everything; Maya Cooper, who does not understand the true meaning of love between her mother and father until it is nearly too late. From the time of the British occupation of Massachusetts to our own modern world, family after family’s lives are inexorably changed not only by the...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The house as the central theme of 'Blackbird House' was not fully exploited, as it didn't play a central role - the references are more symbolic, such as a pear tree that's planted by the first owner and reappears through many of the stories; a white crow with a similar beginning, and so on.....Many short stories leave you feeling a little cheated, because they end on a question, with the characters left dangling, their fates unknown - but overall Hoffman's stories feel complete, perhaps more so because of the connections between them.  

Media Reviews
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.... Hoffman's lyrical prose weaves an undeniable spell.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

[I]t certainly seems as though [Hoffman's] entrancing and mythological tales flow like water from a spring, and her new book is no exception....As the stories leapfrog from colonial times toward the present, Hoffman, a subtle conjurer of telling details and ironic predicaments, orchestrates intense romances and profound sacrifices. Those who live in Blackbird House, by turns brilliant, crazy, and courageous, follow their dreams, endure nightmares, and find that their numinous home is as much a part of their being as their parents' DNA (BookBrowse note My two-volume Oxford English Dictionary didn't list 'numinous' but I did find a definition at HyperDictionary.com [adj] evincing the presence of a deity; a numinous wood; the most numinous moment in the Mass).

Reader Reviews
Connie

I find that the book really translates into a sense of place (i.e. home) as opposed to a dwelling. She has always been one of my favorite authors and I am currently reading this one. I am happy to say that it has held my attention and I enjoy the ...   Read More

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