Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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. Agent, Elaine Markson. (Aug. 1)
" Publishers Weekly
(Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A quiet but deeply moving achievement of lyric power." Kirkus Reviews
"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." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"[H]aunted and haunting characters populate [these] tales, which are also notable for their intense sense of place. Hoffman's many fans should welcome this little gem with enthusiasm. Recommended." Library Journal
"The stories are stamped with...signatures of magic-suffused nature....These are fairy tales with one foot in reality." Anita Sama, USA Today
"Hoffman masterfully plays with the tensions between character and place, creating a setting so vivid that it breathes and bleeds along with her characters." Rebecca Taylor, Seattle Times
"[L]anguage that is both eerie and beautiful....Hoffman lets Blackbird House stand as an emblem for the transforming power of any long-established home, while reveling in the haunting quality of her own distinctive literary style." New York Times Book Review
"Hoffman spins a phantasmagoria of color...at the expense of plot, exposition, and dialogue....The characters are so unrefined and underwritten it would take a genealogist to untangle their relationships. (Grade: D)" Entertainment Weekly
"These tales are so beautifully crafted that it's almost painful to admit that they are, too often, also a bore....[T]he studied prose and stylistic self-consciousness...suggest other writers are the ones most likely to be swayed by her efforts." Karen Sandstrom, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Several of Hoffman's stories...are about as deep as a puddle....Although there are a few pages in Blackbird House that demonstrate the skill that Hoffman has developed in writing 16 books, they don't add up to much." Jenny Shank, Rocky Mountain News
"The stories showcase Hoffman's own magical powers of description, demonstrated here by vivid evocations of the lush natural world....Hoffman...uses her lyrical gift to fine advantage in Blackbird House." Carole Goldberg, Hartford Courant
"Hoffman does everything right in these lyrical stories, rich with metaphor and meaning." Nancy Pate, Orlando Sentinel
"Hoffman creates many charming and intriguing people and events to carry her tale. Their lives are most often sketched in summary with minimal dialogue, which gives the prose an old-fashioned flavor." Irene Wanner, San Francisco Chronicle
"Storytelling doesn't get any better. And while the tales in this book are not as steeped in magic as those in Hoffman's past efforts, she is in top form with Blackbird House..." Dorman T. Shindler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
About the Author
Alice Hoffman is the author of sixteen acclaimed novels, including Practical Magic, Here on Earth, Blue Diary, and, most recently, The Probable Future. She has also written five books for children. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Reading Group Guide
1. How does “The Edge of the World” set the tone for Blackbird House
? How would you characterize the house—is it frightening, soothing, mysterious? Did your feelings about the house change as the book unfolded? If so,how?
2. In the opening story, “The Edge of the World,” a fisherman and his son are lost at sea. How do they haunt Blackbird House, both literally and figuratively? In which ways are the other characters, themselves floundering and lost, seeking to be found? What other ghosts—both literal and metaphorical—are present in the book?
3. When Coral finds eggs with holes in “The Edge of the World,” she views them as omens “of lives unfinished.” What other omens does Coral notice? How are these omens similar and different from the signs that Mayas mother perceives two hundred years later in “India”? How is the white bird an omen?
4. Why do you think that Vincent stays away from his childhood home for so long in “The Edge of the World”?What do you suppose his mothers reaction is upon his return? Why do you think he is fearless about the sea?
5. The image of drowning courses throughout the book, from the literal loss of life of John and Isaac (in “The Edge of the World”) to Lysanders accident (“The Witch of Truro”), to the characterization of Emmas parents as “two drowning people” in “The Summer Kitchen.” What about the act of drowning is so potent in describing loss, either of life or of love? In which other ways does the power of nature play a role in the book?
6. Love at first sight occurs with many of the couples in Blackbird House. Name them. How does this thunderbolt of passion change and shape their lives? Which couple do you think is best suited for one another in the book? The worst? Do you believe in love at first sight?
7. Sibling relationships are very important in Blackbird House. How does sibling rivalry inform some of them,such as Violets relationship with Huley (in “Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair”)? How do siblings form a support network for one another, such as Emma and Walker (“The Summer Kitchen” and “Wish You Were Here”) and Garnet and Ruby (“The Token”)? Which sibling pair do you consider to be the most loving and supportive toward one another? Does one pair remind you of you and your siblings?
8. Sibling relationships are very important in Blackbird House. How does sibling rivalry inform some of them,such as Violets relationship with Huley (in “Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair”)? How do siblings form a support network for one another, such as Emma and Walker (“The Summer Kitchen” and “Wish You Were Here”) and Garnet and Ruby (“The Token”)? Which sibling pair do you consider to be the most loving and supportive toward one another? Does one pair remind you of you and your siblings?
9. “I realized I would have to be careful about who I became,” Garnet says in “The Token.” What drives her toward this revelation? How does Garnets relationship with her mother change as a result of it? Who else in the book has an epiphany thats driven by the behavior of a parent?
10. Why does Larkin promise Lucinda he will “change the world” in “Insulting the Angels”? How is this uncharacteristic of him? What change does Larkin himself want? Why do you think that Lucinda leaves the baby with him and goes off to fight?
11. Violet sees books as a passageway to something greater. How does knowledge broaden her horizons? In what ways does it stifle her? Do you think shes correct when she wonders, in “Lionheart,” if sending Lion to Harvard was the “greatest mistake shes ever made”? Why are Lion, and his son after him, so adored by Violet?
12. “When he kissed her, he felt as though he were swallowing sadness,” thinks Lion, Jr., of his love for Dorey (p. 116, in “The Conjurers Handbook”). What about Dorey attracts Lion? How does their relationship overcome its mournful circumstances to take flight? What similarities do Dorey and Violet share?
13. How does Maya turn away from her parents in “India”? In what ways does she emulate her brother in her dismissal of what her parents stand for? Do you think they come to a better comprehension of one another after Kalkins death? Why or why not?
14. “Loneliness can become nasty and hopeless,” Hoffman writes on page 162. Which characters allow loneliness to fill them with bitterness? In contrast, who enjoys time alone and grows as a result of it?
15. In the book, theres a reluctance to meddle in the business of others—from “The Wedding of Snow and Ice,”where neighbors ignore the physical abuse occurring next door, to “The Pear Tree,” a chronicle of a familys struggle with a troubled child. Why is the community so hesitant to become involved in these situations? What about Blackbird House might encourage the isolation of its inhabitants? How is this similar to or different from your personal experiences in a community?
16. How does Jamies experience in “The Wedding of Snow and Ice” shape the course of his life? What about it sparks his decision to become a doctor? How is he similar and different to Walker, another young boy (in “The Summer Kitchen”) who decides to enter the medical profession?
17. Emma wishes for “the person she could have been if she hadnt been stopped in some way” (p. 219) in “Wish You Were Here.” Who else in the book has a dividing line between the person they were and who they are now? Do you have a point in your life thats as significant? What is it?
18. What compels Emma to reach out to the boy at her door at the end of the book? How does the boy share striking similarities to Isaac in “The Edge of the World”? How does Hoffman bring the story full circle in the novels last scene?
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 familys lives are inexorably changed not only by the people they love, but by the lives they lead inside Blackbird House.
The questions that follow are designed to enhance your discussion and personal reading of BLACKBIRD HOUSE.