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.