three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
user_rating: 
0

A-BlackbirdHouseIn a house near the ocean at the tip of Cape Cod, tragedy doesn’t die with its victims. Instead, it lingers, returning as a sweet smell or a mysterious bird to haunt the house’s inhabitants. These inhabitants change over the 200-year course of Blackbird House, Hoffman’s new collection of linked stories. People may even move away—to travel the ocean in "Edge of the World," fight in the Civil War in "Insulting the Angels," or wander the Cape in "The Witch of Truro." However, all twelve stories are deeply rooted in Blackbird House itself, and in the eerie ways its past intrudes into the present.
Doubleday. 225 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 0385507615

Orlando Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"The stories in Blackbird House read like fables, more magical realism. … Hoffman does everything right in these lyrical stories, rich with metaphor and meaning." Nancy Pate

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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

San Jose Mercury News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The writing in Alice Hoffman’s slim new novel … is deceptively simple, at times so spartan and matter-of-fact that the reader can easily overlook major plot points. … Some of the stories are more inspired than others—the one about the family of a shell-shocked Vietnam vet is the most predictable, the one about a golden boy who marries a Holocaust survivor the most chilling." Donna Yanish

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"The book’s structure—a dozen connected/disconnected tales—recalls previous Hoffman fictions, The Probable Future, about 13 generations of magical women in Massachusetts, and Local Girls, about family and friendship on Long Island. … The less satisfying chapters rely more on didactic parable than evocative story." Valerie Miner

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The trouble with Hoffman’s linked narrative is that tragedy and losses that seem moving and affecting early in the book begin to feel manipulative and programmed by the 12th story." Sharan McBride

Rocky Mountain News 1.5 of 5 Stars
"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

Critical Summary

Hoffman is fond of symbols. If you share this fondness, you may appreciate the magic of Blackbird House, where birds, flowers, and colors become links to the past and omens of the future. If, however, such devices leave you cold—and particularly if you like your fiction unpredictable—you may find Blackbird House frustrating. Some critics thought that Hoffman’s accumulation of tragedies were formulaic, complaining that she too obviously sets characters up for their falls. Subtlety is not Hoffman’s strong suit, and these stories may hold few surprises. But if you crave what one critic calls "a good cleansing, heartbreaking read," Blackbird House may be just right.

The Probable Future | Alice Hoffman (2003): 3 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003. Witchy women discover truths about love and family in a small town outside Boston.