This was my first Alice Hoffman novel and I think I would like to read more of her work. I’m giving it a favorable review but not sure what genre to classify this one. It’s not a mystery. It’s not chick lit. It’s not serious literature or a classic. Just a snapshot of typical suburbia in 1959/1960 in a small community in the United States.
Seventh Heaven centers around a community on Long Island in the late 1950’s time period. The small town had been built up on a former potato field, all houses identical as if made in an assembly line. In the beginning of the book it mentioned how men would come home from work and wander into the wrong home, looking around perplexed as they clapped eyes on their neighbor’s wife and unfamiliar sofas. Then back out to find their own place and dinner waiting to be served by apron wearing stay-at-home moms. Cookie cutter perfect.
The book explores relationships in the late 50’s suburbs of several families. Nora Silk, one of the main characters, shakes things up without trying, simply by being divorced with two children and moving into the vacant house on Hemlock Street . The other wives, in their almost daily gathering to drink coffee, swap gossip and talk about their children, regard Nora from the safety of their living room gathering place. Nora is on a ladder cleaning the windows of her new home. The sharp-eyed married ladies note she isn’t wearing a wedding ring and this sets you up for how
Nora will be treated. More like how she won’t be treated as she is basically ignored. Certainly it didn’t help that Nora wore stretch pants and spike heels (not while she’s on the ladder cleaning !) – yet Nora is the kindest of the lot.
Besides the story weaving around Nora and her children being the outcasts of the neighborhood, the story revolves around other families….. such as the McCarthy boys, Ace and Jackie, and their patient father dubbed “the saint” by his sons. Jackie gets into trouble with a surprising twist to his character transformation. The Hennessy family – Ellen and her cop husband Joe, who live across the street from Nora. Joe starts reevaluating the twin beds and his relationship with his wife Ellen after watching Nora Silk as she walks, mows her own grass and does chores. Their son Stevie makes it his job to torture Nora’s son, Billy, in and out of school.
The Shapiro kids – Danny who could get into any college he wants due to his good grades and financial ability; he drifts into another world after discovering marijuana. His sister Rickie is on the fulcrum of duty and desire when it comes to
life and boyfriend choices.
Donna Durgin, who walks out on her young children and husband because her life feels too empty. And the tragic death of a character in the very beginning that helps shape the personalities of some of the youth who knew her.
The way the characters are portrayed are some true to life examples of this time period. Some issues are never resolved. Yet I found it a satisfying ending – a snapshot of a year in the life of the families on Hemlock Street .
If you grew up in this time period or you were an adult in 1960 I think it will strike a chord of authenticity. One or two of the characters are bound to remind you of one of your neighbors. Growing up in a similar small suburb outside Philadelphia , I find some of this rings true.
Nice work Alice Hoffman!
Now to the food…………
Reading about the past made me think of plain old foodstuff….the kind you might find in any of the houses on the street where I grew up.
Let your nose led the senses as you walk in the back door and smell sweet onions and peppers cooking in olive oil. You round the corner to the kitchen and your eyes clap onto locally produced smoked sausages. They sit on the sideline waiting to join the softening veggies. Polenta has been prepared and sliced into rounds.
Plain food…….good food. Memories of walking into any of my childhood friends’ homes in Brookhaven Pennsylvania . No recipes needed for this one as it’s self explanatory.