Picks and Pans Review: Blackbird House

updated 07/26/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/26/2004 01:00AM

By Alice Hoffman

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A blacksmith coughs up the teeth of the monstrous halibut that tore off his leg. A mysterious woman wears red boots and cries red tears. The ghost of a boy vanishes in a blink. Life can be unpredictable at Blackbird House, the Cape Cod farmstead at the center of Hoffman's beautifully evocative stories. Long known for infusing everyday life with whiffs of the supernatural, Hoffman (The Probable Future, Practical Magic) puts her signature spin on a dozen tales that begin during the Revolutionary War and wend their way to modern times. As the generations come and go, an intricate genealogy emerges, sometimes defined by blood, sometimes by more spectral bonds. A white blackbird sighted through the decades becomes a symbol of loss for a colonial-era boy drowned at sea, a bookish farm girl impregnated and abandoned by a Harvard professor in the late 19th century and a teenager brimming with resentment toward her self-absorbed hippie parents. The otherworldly dimensions could easily become heavy-handed, but Hoffman's characters are so authentic that the fantastical seems almost matter-of-fact.

Over the centuries, Blackbird House disintegrates and is rebuilt—its decay and renewal serving as a counterpoint for the dramas between its walls. When all the dust settles, it is the house itself that emerges as the book's most enduring—and inspiring—character.

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