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Alice Hoffman has adapted the mythology of the blackbirds as prophets, spell-casters and messengers of the gods into another heartbreaking dimension in her book of short essays: Blackbird House.
The title’s “House” is a Massachusetts farm sheltering the tragic lives of various occupants over a span of two hundred years.
The author has chosen the blackbird and the farm to be the segue that links the collection of her twelve essays. The multiplicity of the stories can feel disjointed, but comes into its own as we go from one tragedy to another.
Alice Hoffman is a craftsman of great heart and integrity. From the harsh life of fishermen on Cape Cod’s shores at the time of the British embargo, to the summer visitors in modern times, she describes the lives and loves of the farm’s inhabitants in lyrical beautiful yet melancholic prose. Her seashore descriptions are evocative of impressionistic paintings.
The reader will get to know and to cherish the characters of the Hudley family, of Ruth Blackbird Hill with her blood red shoes, and the new owner of the farm, the cripple Lysander Wynn. At the end of “The witch of Truro “and “The token” there is a glimmer of hope in the middle of unfathomable despair. Perhaps, they decided to leave the cursed farm.
In the next essay, out of the stench of the beaching of the whales, Alice Hoffman conjures up an enthralling and riveting slice of life about a cranberry harvester and an abused farm girl.
Following this tale is the life of Violet and of her love child Lion West and of his son Lion West Jr., constituting an unforgettable saga.
“The conjurer’s handbook” or the life of Lion West Jr. is the most haunting narrative of the twelve stories. His life’s love, a holocaust survivor will linger on in the reader’s mind for a long time. The intensity of that tale is so powerful that the subsequent essays are pale in comparison. In fact, to do it more justice, it would have been preferable to have expanded this essay into a full blown novel.
Alice Hoffman’s beautifully sad prose tugs at our inner chords. In a poetic language, “ Blackbird House” weaves emotions and events. It is a poignant and compelling literary achievement. Numerous subjects, from the harsh life of fishermen, beached whales, holocaust and the hard luck that some people experience and how they succeed in overcoming it would make “Blackbird House” an excellent read for book club discussions!