Blackbird House [NOOK Book]

Overview

"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.
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Blackbird House

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Overview

"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.
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Editorial 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. 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) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This marks a change for Hoffman (The Probable Future), whose fiction often features enigmatic individuals who inject a bit of magic into their quotidian routines. Here 12 linked short stories center on an uncanny setting, an isolated Cape Cod farm that entices and influences a variety of owners and residents from the 18th century to the present. In "The Edge of the World," Blackbird House is constructed by Coral Hadley's husband just before their dreams are literally blown away in a deadly gale. "The Witch of Truro" brings a mentally shattered woman to the farm as the unlikely savior of Lysander Wynn, a former sailor land-bound and bitter after losing his leg to a mammoth halibut. Another monster, albeit imaginary, is the means by which desperate Violet Cross seeks to bind a lover in "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair." Other equally haunted-and haunting-characters populate the tales, which are also notable for their intense sense of place. Hoffman's many fans should welcome this little gem with enthusiasm. Recommended for most fiction collections.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In this collection of tales, Hoffman takes readers into the lives of the people who lived in Blackbird House from the time of the American Revolution to the present. The house, on a farm on Cape Cod, has a haunting presence throughout the book. In addition to ghost sightings, there are touches of magical realism (a white blackbird, blood-red pears-the color of witchcraft, "crying turnips"). However, it is the characters themselves, their stories and their relationships with others, that are the most compelling. Among them are Violet, a voracious reader, greedy for knowledge and betrayed by the love of her life, whose "fierce love" continues to influence the lives of her son and grandson; Jamie, a boy helping his neighbor deal with the consequences of a secret that everyone has known-and ignored-for years; Emma, a leukemia survivor, wishing to become the person she might have been if she hadn't been so ill as a child. The residents of Blackbird House experience deep sorrow and personal loss, but they also endure due to the power of love. Many of the characters are between the ages of 10 and 30, which will add to the book's appeal for young adults.-Sandy Freund, Richard Byrd Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
With a dozen stories, some more clearly connected than others but all set in the same farmhouse on Cape Cod from the time of the British blockade to the present, Hoffman (Blue Diary, 2002, etc.) creates a continuous narrative built up through a sense of place. Blackbird House was built "On the Edge of the World" by a fisherman lost, along with his younger son, during what he'd hoped was to be his last sea voyage before settling down to farm. "The Witch of Truro" is actually Ruth, a desperate orphan who finds love and security with a kindly one-legged blacksmith on the farm. When Ruth's husband dies years later, her daughter buries "The Token" to help her recover. These stories lean heavily on symbolism-fire, water, the color red, a white blackbird-but Hoffman has grown in subtlety, so that the recurring motifs and occasionally heightened realism work nicely within the book's structure. At the center, three interlocking stories follow Violet, a bookish farm girl. She falls in love with a visiting Harvard professor who ends up marrying her prettier sister-but not before impregnating Violet. Violet marries a good man and happily raises three children on the farm. The oldest, unaware of his paternity, wins a scholarship to Harvard and leaves Cape Cod. When he dies in Europe years later, Violet brings home his son to raise. That grandson returns from WWII with a Jewish wife, a Holocaust survivor ready to meet the challenge of Violet's fierce love. In the '50s and '60s, unhappiness hovers over the farm: murder, resentments, suicide. But in the concluding pieces, about a family that must rebuild itself after confronting a child's bout with leukemia, the farm becomes a source of love and renewal.While family names come and go (and sometimes reappear), the farm undergoes its own evolution. A quiet but deeply moving achievement of lyric power. Agent: Elaine Markson/Elaine Markson Literary Agency
From the Publisher
"...[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"
Booklist (American Library Association)

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385514019
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/20/2004
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 67,935
  • File size: 188 KB

Meet the Author

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City in 1952 and grew up on Long Island. Hoffman’s first novel, Property Of, was written when she was twenty-one. Her short fiction and nonfiction works have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, Redbook, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Self, and others. Her novel Practical Magic was made into a major motion picture starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman; her young adult novel Aquamarine was made into a movie in 2006. She lives in Boston and New York.

Biography

Born in the 1950s to college-educated parents who divorced when she was young, Alice Hoffman was raised by her single, working mother in a blue-collar Long Island neighborhood. Although she felt like an outsider growing up, she discovered that these feelings of not quite belonging positioned her uniquely to observe people from a distance. Later, she would hone this viewpoint in stories that captured the full intensity of the human experience.

After high school, Hoffman went to work for the Doubleday factory in Garden City. But the eight-hour, supervised workday was not for her, and she quit before lunch on her first day! She enrolled in night school at Adelphi University, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She went on to attend Stanford University's Creative Writing Center on a Mirrellees Fellowship. Her mentor at Stanford, the great teacher and novelist Albert Guerard, helped to get her first story published in the literary magazine Fiction. The story attracted the attention of legendary editor Ted Solotaroff, who asked if she had written any longer fiction. She hadn't -- but immediately set to work. In 1977, when Hoffman was 25, her first novel, Property Of, was published to great fanfare.

Since that remarkable debut, Hoffman has carved herself a unique niche in American fiction. A favorite with teens as well as adults, she renders life's deepest mysteries immediately understandable in stories suffused with magic realism and a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility. (In a 1994 article for The New York Times, interviewer Ruth Reichl described the magic in Hoffman's books as a casual, regular occurrence -- "...so offhand that even the most skeptical reader can accept it.") Her characters' lives are transformed by uncontrollable forces -- love and loss, sorrow and bliss, danger and death.

Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick, but even without Winfrey's powerful endorsement, her books have become huge bestsellers -- including three that have been adapted for the movies: Practical Magic (1995), The River King (2000), and her YA fable Aquamarine (2001).

Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor; and like many people who consider themselves blessed with luck, she believes strongly in giving back. For this reason, she donated her advance from her 1999 short story collection Local Girls to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA.

Good To Know

  • Hoffman has written a number of children's books, including Fireflies: A Winter's Tale(1999), Horsefly (2000), and Moondog (2004).

  • Aquamarine was written for Hoffman's best friend, Jo Ann, who dreamed of the freedom of mermaids as she battled brain cancer.

  • Here on Earth is a modern version of Hoffman's favorite novel, Wuthering Heights.

  • Hoffman has been honored with the Massachusetts Book Award for her teen novel Incantation.
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      1. Hometown:
        Boston, Massachusetts
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 16, 1952
      2. Place of Birth:
        New York, New York
      1. Education:
        B.A., Adelphi University, 1973; M.A., Stanford University, 1974
      2. Website:

    Read an Excerpt

    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 the fear of what might be was worse than ever, never mind gales and storms and starvation and accidents, never mind rum and arguments and empty nets. This year the British had placed an embargo on the ships of the Cape. No one could go in or out of the harbor, except unlawfully, which is what the fishermen in town planned to do come May, setting off on moonless nights, a few sloops at a time, with the full knowledge that every man caught would be put to death for treason and every boy would be sent to Dartmoor Prison in England--as good as death, people in town agreed, but colder and some said more miserable.

    Most people made their intentions known right away, those who would go and those who would stay behind to man the fort beside Long Pond if need be, a battle station that was more of a cabin than anything, but at least it was something solid to lean against should a man have to take aim and fire. John Hadley was among those who wanted to stay. He made that clear, and everyone knew he had his reasons. He had just finished the little house in the hollow that he'd been working on with his older son, Vincent, for nearly three years. During this time, John Hadley and Vincent had gone out fishing each summer, searching out bluefish and halibut, fish large enough so that you could fill up your catch in a very short time. John's sloop was small, his desires were few: he wanted to give his wife this house, nothing fancy, but carefully made all the same, along with the acreage around it, a meadow filled with wild grapes and winterberry. Wood for building was hard to come by, so John had used old wrecked boats for the joists, deadwood he'd found in the shipyard, and when there was none of that to be had, he used fruitwood he'd culled from his property, though people insisted applewood and pear wouldn't last. There was no glass in the windows, only oiled paper, but the light that came through was dazzling and yellow; little flies buzzed in and out of the light, and everything seemed slow, molasses slow, lovesick slow.

    John Hadley felt a deep love for his wife, Coral, more so than anyone might guess. He was still tongue-tied in her presence, and he had the foolish notion that he could give her something no other man could. Something precious and lasting and hers alone. It was the house he had in mind whenever he looked at Coral. This was what love was to him: when he was at sea he could hardly sleep without the feel of her beside him. She was his anchor, she was his home; she was the road that led to everything that mattered to John Hadley.

    Otis West and his cousin Harris Maguire had helped with the plans for the house--a keeping room, an attic for the boys, a separate chamber for John and Coral. These men were good neighbors, and they'd helped again when the joists were ready, even though they both thought John was a fool for giving up the sea. A man didn't give up who he was, just to settle down. He didn't trade his freedom for turnips. Still, these neighbors spent day after day working alongside John and Vincent, bringing their oxen to help lift the crossbeams, hollering for joy when the heart of the work was done, ready to get out the good rum. The town was like that: for or against you, people helped each other out. Even old Margaret Swift, who was foolish enough to have raised the British flag on the pole outside her house, was politely served when she came into the livery store, though there were folks in town who believed that by rights she should be drinking tar and spitting feathers.

    John's son Vincent was a big help in the building of the house, just as he was out at sea, and because of this they would soon be able to move out of the rooms they let at Hannah Crosby's house. But Isaac, the younger boy, who had just turned ten, was not quite so helpful. He meant to be, but he was still a child, and he'd recently found a baby blackbird that kept him busy. Too busy for other chores, it seemed. First, he'd had to feed the motherless creature every hour with crushed worms and johnnycake crumbs, then he'd had to drip water into the bird's beak from the tip of his finger. He'd started to hum to the blackbird, as if it were a real baby. He'd started to talk to it when he thought no one could overhear.

    "Wild creatures belong in the wild," Coral Hadley told her son. All the same, she had difficulty denying Isaac anything. Why, she let the boy smuggle his pet into the rooms they let at the Crosbys' boarding house, where he kept the blackbird in a wooden box beside his bed.

    The real joy of the house they were building, as much for John as for anyone, was that it was, indeed, a farm. They would have cows and horses to consider, rather than halibut and bluefish; predictable beasts at long last, and a large and glorious and predictable meadow as well. Rather than the cruel ocean, there would be fences, and a barn, and a deep cistern of cold well water, the only water John's boys would need or know, save for the pond at the rear of the property, where damselflies glided above the mallows in spring. John Hadley had begun to talk about milk cows and crops. He'd become fascinated with turnips, how hardy they were, how easy to grow, even in sandy soil. In town, people laughed at him. John Hadley knew this, and he didn't care. He'd traveled far enough in his lifetime. Once, he'd been gone to the island of Nevis all summer long with the Crosbys on their sloop; he'd brought Coral back an emerald, he'd thought then that was what she wanted most in the world. But she'd told him to sell it and buy land. She knew that was what he wanted.

    Coral was a good woman, and John was a handsome man, tall, with dark hair and darker eyes, a Cornishman, as tough as men from Cornwall always were. All the same, he didn't have too much pride to herd sheep, or clean out a stable, or plant corn and turnips, though it meant a long-term battle with brambles and nettle. Still, his was a town of fishermen; much as soldiers who can never leave their country once they've buried their own in the earth, so here it was the North Atlantic that called to them, a graveyard for sure, but home just as certainly. And John was still one of them, at least for the present time. If a man in these parts needed to earn enough to buy fences and cows and turnips, he knew where he had to go. It would only be from May to July, John figured, and that would be the end of it, especially if he was helped by his two strong sons.

    They moved into the house in April, a pale calm day when the buds on the lilacs their neighbors had planted as a welcome were just about to unfold. The house was finished enough to sleep in; there was a fireplace where Coral could cook, and the rest would come eventually. Quite suddenly, John and Coral felt as though time was unlimited, that it was among the things that would never be in short supply.

    "That's where the horses will be," John Hadley told Coral. They were looking out over the field that belonged to them, thanks to those years John had spent at sea and the emerald they'd sold. "I'll name one Charger. I had a horse called that when I was young."

    Coral laughed to think of him young. She saw her boys headed for the pond. The blackbird chick rode on Isaac's shoulder and flapped his wings. It was their first day, the beginning of everything. Their belongings were still in crates.

    "I'll just take him with me and Vincent this one time," John said. "I promise. Then we'll concentrate on turnips."

    "No," Coral said. She wanted three milk cows and four sheep and her children safe in their own beds. She thought about her youngest, mashing worms into paste for his fledgling. "Isaac can't go."

    By then the brothers had reached the shores of the little pond. The frogs jumped away as they approached. The blackbird, frightened by the splashing, hopped into the safety of Isaac's shirt, and sent out a small muffled cry.

    "He's like a hen," the older brother jeered. At fifteen, Vincent had grown to his full height, six foot, taller than his father; he was full of himself and how much he knew. He'd been to sea twice, after all, and he figured he was as good as any man; he already had calluses on his hands. He didn't need to go to school anymore, which was just as well, since he'd never been fond of his lessons. "He doesn't even know he can fly," he said of his brother's foundling.

    "I'll teach him." Isaac felt in his shirt for the blackbird. The feathers reminded him of water, soft and cool. Sometimes Isaac let the chick sleep right beside him, on the quilt his mother had sewn out of indigo homespun.

    "Nah, you won't. He's a big baby. Just like you are. He'll be walking around on your shoulder for the rest of his life."

    After that, Isaac brought the blackbird into the woods every day, just to prove Vincent wrong. He climbed into one of the tall oaks and let his legs dangle over a high limb. He urged the blackbird to fly away, but the bird was now his pet, too attached to ever leave; the poor thing merely paced on his shoulder and squawked. Isaac decided to name his pet Ink. Ink was an indoor bird, afraid of the wind, and of others of his own kind. He hopped around the parlor, and nested beneath the woodstove, where it was so hot he singed his feathers. He sat on the table and sipped water from a saucer while Isaac did his studies. It was a navigation book Isaac was studying. The Practical Navigator. If he was not as strong as Vincent, or as experienced, then at least he could memorize the chart of the stars; he could know the latitude of where they were going and where they'd been.

    "Do you think I could teach him to talk?" Isaac said dreamily to his mother one day. Ink was perched on the tabletop, making a nuisance of himself.

    "What would a blackbird have to say?" Coral laughed.

    "He'd say: I'll never leave you. I'll be with you for all time."

    Hearing those words, Coral felt faint; she said she needed some air. She went into the yard and faced the meadow and gazed at the way the tall grass moved in the wind. That night she said to her husband again, "Don't take him with you, John."

    April was ending, with sheets of rain and the sound of the peepers calling from the shore of the pond. Classes would end in a few days, too--they called it a fisherman's school, so that boys were free to be sent out to work with their fathers or uncles or neighbors from May till October. The Hadleys left in the first week of that mild month, a night when there was no moon. The fog had come in; so much the better when it came to sneaking away. The British had lookouts to the east and the west, and it was best to take a northerly route. They brought along molasses, the fishing nets, johnnycake, and salted pork, and, unknown to John and Vincent, Isaac took along his blackbird as well, tucked into his jacket. As they rounded the turn out of their own harbor, Isaac took his pet from his hiding place.

    "You could do it now if you wanted to," he said to the bird. "You could fly away."

    But the blackbird shivered in the wind, startled, it seemed, by the sound of water. He scrambled back to the safety of Isaac's jacket, feathers puffed up, the way they always were when he was frightened.

    "I told you he'd never fly." Vincent had spied the blackbird. He nudged his brother so that Isaac would help check the nets. "He's pathetic, really."

    "No, he's not!"

    By now they were past the fog that always clung to shore at this time of year, and the night was clear. There were so many stars in the sky, and the vast expanse of dark and light was frightening. The water was rougher than Isaac had ever seen it in their bay, and they were still not even halfway to the Middle Banks. The sloop seemed small out here, far too breakable.

    "Is this the way it always is?" Isaac asked his brother. He felt sick to his stomach; there was a lurching in his bones and blood. He thought about the oak tree and the meadow and the frogs and the way his mother looked at him when he came in through the door.

    "It's the way it is tonight," Vincent said.

    Used to the sea, Vincent fell asleep easily, but Isaac couldn't close his eyes. John Hadley understood; he came to sit beside the boy. It was so dark that every star in the sky hung suspended above the mast, as though only inches above them. Isaac recognized the big square of Pegasus that he'd seen in his book. The night looked like spilled milk, and John Hadley pointed out Leo, the harbinger of spring, then the North Star, constant as always. John could hear the chattering of the blackbird in his son's waistcoat. He could taste his wife's farewell kiss.

    "What happens if a storm comes up?" Isaac said, free to be frightened now that his brother was asleep, free to be the boy he still was. "What happens if I'm thrown overboard? Or if a whale comes along? What happens then?"

    "Then I'll save you." When the wind changed John Hadley smelled turnips, he really did, and he laughed at the scent of it, how it had followed him all this way to the Middle Banks, to remind him of everything he had to lose.

    From the Hardcover edition.

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    Introduction

    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 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.

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    Foreword

    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 Maya’s 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 mother’s 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 Lysander’s accident (“The Witch of Truro”), to the characterization of Emma’s 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 firstsight 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 Violet’s relationship with Huley (in “Black is the Color of My True Love’s 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 Violet’s relationship with Huley (in “Black is the Color of My True Love’s 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 Garnet’s relationship with her mother change as a result of it? Who else in the book has an epiphany that’s 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 she’s correct when she wonders, in “Lionheart,” if sending Lion to Harvard was the “greatest mistake she’s 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 Conjurer’s 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 Kalkin’s 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, there’s 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 family’s 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 Jamie’s 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 hadn’t 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 that’s 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 novel’s last scene?

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    Reading Group Guide

    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 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.
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    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4
    ( 36 )
    Rating Distribution

    5 Star

    (16)

    4 Star

    (12)

    3 Star

    (6)

    2 Star

    (1)

    1 Star

    (1)

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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted September 20, 2004

      Alice If You Are Reading This-- Way to GO Baby!!

      Alice-- I loved this book. I lived in MA for most of my life and spent a college summer on the Cape in West Dennis beach. Riding my bike around the Cape looking at the old houses and walking through the cemeteries there were stories to be told and you told them!! You really get the Cape-- what it's about--the smells-- the tastes-- and the people. There are so many great books written about the Cape and this is certainly one of them. Thanks for taking me there Alice --

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 3, 2004

      For the Beauty of the Word

      Alice Hoffman is a conjurer of prose. She understands human frailty, vulnerability, self-conscious loathing of birth abnormalities, the need for feeling love, and other acts of living. She writes about New England as well as anyone writing today - her pages are filled with visual stimuli that hang so closely to the retina that though they are often repeated (the color red as embodied by pears, berries, blood, leather, etc.), each repetition serves only to magnify the original richness of impulse. BLACKBIRD HOUSE spans 200 odd years of life on Cape Cod, and while many are calling the chapters 'essays' or 'short stories', they seem more like a cohesive novel about the land and the endurance of the sea and time than anything so disjointed as individual stories. Each of the chapters is connected and it is this connection of odd characters and their progeny that propels the reader nonstop from the early days of the colonies to the present. Hoffman creates dark characters: pain, bruise, emotional devastation and fate are woven like a continuing tapestry, passed from generation to generation. The seeds of all the characters, no matter from where they may be speaking (from the Cape, Boston, London, etc) all are firmly planted in the sweet peas, nettles and bramble that surround the sturdy house that makes the title. Here are witching, blackbirds that become white like ghosts, the ocean, and every type of family dysfunctional unit imaginable. BLACKBIRD HOUSE is not unlike the magical realism of our Latin American writers, but with a thoroughly American twist that makes it even more delicious! An excellent book, this!

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted June 5, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      unique story line, hard to put down

      This is my first Alice Hoffman novel, and I definitely will read some more of her work. I really enjoyed this book. The book expands over two and a half centuries and follows people and families that occupy a home and land in Massachusetts. The chapters, though, not really a continuation of the previous chapter, really flow. Highly recommend, and the study questions in the back provide for some more thought.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted January 23, 2010

      Wonderfully well written, superb imaginary, enthralling story line

      Another fascinating book from Alice Hoffman!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 8, 2008

      Charming book

      Most of the stories in this book are endearing. A few fall too short, but all in all a very charming read!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted March 15, 2007

      Twists and Turns

      I would never of guessed the content by the cover. It has a kind of mysterious feel to it. It made me cling to the binding all day. I love how it all revolves around one thing.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted September 12, 2004

      Great Read!

      Blackbeard House was a wonderful set of interconnected stories built around the same house through a couple of centuries. It's magical and very symbolistic!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 16, 2004

      Recommended For Anyone

      I did not think I would like this book as much as I did. I have never read anything by Alice Hoffman but I'm a fan now. Blackbird House is a wonderful novel with great characters.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 31, 2012

      Love this book

      Couldn't put it down

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    • Posted May 19, 2011

      Good book.

      The story about a house and the people who end up living in it.Some things change and some never do.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted April 5, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      okay read..not as great as the rest of her work

      While I remain a fan of Alice Hoffman, I have to admit this was the only book of hers that I ever had to force myself to continue on with. Once intot he middle, it was a mediocre read. i recommend any other Alice Hoffman book first...then don't miss this one.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 23, 2006

      wonderful

      this is a really good book and think every one should read it!! Alice did it agian and wrote another great book

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 12, 2005

      Pretty Good

      Alice Hoffman has been my favorite author since I was 12, and although Blackbird House is well-written and enjoyable, I often struggled through certain chapters. Some chapters were wonderful (and far too short!) whereas some were merely tepid. I felt like this lacked the usual Hoffman sparkle. Nevertheless, it is a good 'hammock read' for the lazy days of summer coming up.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted April 1, 2005

      I recommend Ms. Hoffman..

      I think to really enjoy her books, you must have a certain kind of mystic imagination...SHE certainly does. I enjoy taking my time reading Ms. Hoffman's books. I like to savor each page.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted October 19, 2004

      So poetic, it is almost musical!

      Beautifully written, truly one of Hoffman's great achievements. The house itself is the main character. She weaves a wonderful, historical tale.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 2, 2010

      No text was provided for this review.

    • Anonymous

      Posted April 2, 2012

      No text was provided for this review.

    • Anonymous

      Posted March 5, 2011

      No text was provided for this review.

    • Anonymous

      Posted March 3, 2012

      No text was provided for this review.

    • Anonymous

      Posted June 17, 2011

      No text was provided for this review.

    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews

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