February 19, 2005
Book Review: Blackbird House
What an interesting way to approach a story. The setting of the book remains the same, Blackbird House, only the people and generations come and go. It's an interesting, magical story about the different personalities and events that occupy the house.
What I learned: I'll have to remember this technique, keeping the setting the same, just changing the people. It was pretty effective.
Moral: Houses have genealogies too.
New York Times Book Review:
The house of the title is one in which, from story to story, we glimpse various families over the course of two centuries. From the very beginning, even as it is being built, the structure is as richly imagined as the well-mapped interior lives of its inhabitants: ''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 own property. . . . 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 . . . and everything seemed slow, molasses slow, lovesick slow.''
John Hadley is a fisherman who renounces the sea in order to build this home for his family, but he hasn't long to enjoy his handiwork -- when he takes his young sons on a final fishing run, they are lost in a storm. John's wife has already sensed impending danger; the morning they left, she found four empty eggshells: ''A bad sign . . . an omen of misfortune and of lives unfinished; futures cracked open into a powdery dust.'' Yet she won't accept what has happened until her son's pet blackbird returns home in ghostly fashion: ''It was some time before she recognized it, because the bird had turned entirely white. It sat in a branch of the big oak, where it could have easily been mistaken for a wisp of a cloud.''
The grieving widow's melancholy comes to infect her lovely house, spilling into the experiences of each new owner. One finds himself unexpectedly tending a stranger's illegitimate child; another must raise her grandson after her son and his wife die in an accident; a later couple buys the house on impulse when their daughter falls ill with leukemia. All these people, whether they realize it or not, are transformed by the history that resides in the very floors and walls of their new home.
Over time, the physical appearance of the place changes as it shifts from working farm to summer cottage, but its chief features remain -- from the pink sweet peas to the beautiful bird, hovering between apparition and fact. 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.