Mark's Reviews > Blackbird House

Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
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Jun 01, 09

bookshelves: fiction
Read in June, 2009

Alice Hoffman writes without a trace of melodrama, which is a good thing, because the stories in this book are full of melodrama.

Whether it is men and boys lost at sea or promising young people snuffed out in traffic accidents or a woman who takes matters into her own hands toward an abusive husband, the tales in "Blackbird House" brim with dramatic twists and turns.

Hoffman handles this by quietly inserting these vertiginous twists as though they were just one more sentence in a row of others. Example: A young man marries and becomes a professor in England. After describing his love of driving fast, she writes: "At home, their baby was asleep in his cradle. He had a wonderful temperament, and that was lucky for everyone. His babysitter would have to stay on, as it would be at least four weeks after the accident before his grandmother could come over by ship to get him."

The interrelated stories here all revolve around a homestead at the very tip of Cape Cod. The opening story explains how it got its name, and the pet bird that becomes the original home's namesake keeps reappearing, improbably, throughout the decades that follow.

The times change, the people and their problems change, but the house and, more importantly, the fecund land around it create a thread. No matter whether the occupants are dealing with loneliness, illness, sudden misfortune, or passion, they are embraced by this land of milkweed, wild sweet peas and strawberries, the brackish pond, and the forest with its mysterious white blackbird.

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