On Hemlock Street, the houses are identical, the lawns tidy, and the families traditional. A perfect slice of suburbia, this Long Island community shows no signs of change as the 1950s draw to a close—until the fateful August morning when Nora Silk arrives.
Recently divorced, Nora mows the lawn in slingback pumps and climbs her roof in the middle of the night to clean the gutters. She works three jobs, and when her casseroles don’t turn out, she feeds her two boys—eight-year-old Billy and his baby brother, James—Frosted Flakes for supper. She wears black stretch pants instead of Bermuda shorts, owns twenty-three shades of nail polish, and sings along to Elvis like a schoolgirl.
Though Nora is eager to fit in on Hemlock Street, her effect on the neighbors is anything but normal. The wives distrust her, the husbands desire her, and the children think she’s a witch. But through Nora’s eyes, the neighborhood appears far from perfect. Behind every neatly trimmed hedge and freshly painted shutter is a family struggling to solve its own unique mysteries. Inspired by Nora, the residents of Hemlock Street finally unlock the secrets that will transform their lives forever.
A tale of extraordinary discoveries, Seventh Heaven is an ode to a single mother’s heroic journey and a celebration of the courage it takes to change.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:March 16, 1952
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., Adelphi University, 1973; M.A., Stanford University, 1974
Read an Excerpt
By Alice Hoffman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Alice Hoffman
All rights reserved.
IN THE COUNTRY OF THE KING
Late in August, three crows took up residence in the chimney of the corner house on Hemlock Street. In the mornings they set up a racket that could wake the dead. They picked up stones in their beaks and tossed them down at picture windows; they plucked out their feathers, which would surface all day long in odd places, in bowls of Cheerios, in the pockets of shirts drying on laundry lines, inside glass milk bottles delivered at dawn.
This corner house was the only one to have been vacated since the subdivision was carved out of a potato farm, six years earlier. Before the builders began working, the town was nothing more than a post office up on Harvey's Turnpike, surrounded by farms. All that first spring renegade potatoes were unearthed when the men on Hemlock Street put down their lawns and planted mimosas and poplars; on trash day there would be heaps of potatoes alongside the aluminum cans. Everything in the neighborhood was brand new, the elementary school, the high school, the A&P, the police station on the Turnpike. The air itself seemed new; it could make you dizzy if you weren't used to it, and relatives visiting from Brooklyn or Queens often had to lie down on a couch with a damp handkerchief pressed to their temples. The bark on the trees left fresh, green patches on your hands if you dared to climb the thin, wavering branches. Each house in the subdivision was the same, and for the longest time husbands pulled into the wrong driveways after work; children wandered into the wrong houses for cookies and milk; young mothers who took their babies out for walks in their new carriages found themselves wandering past identical houses, on identical streets, lost until twilight, when the ice-cream man's truck appeared, and they could follow the sound of his bell, which traced his reliable route past their doorsteps.
To outsiders, the houses might still seem identical, but after six years those who lived here could now easily tell the difference by the color of the trim on the brick fronts, by the flower boxes or the lawn statues or the hedges beside the driveways. Now when the children played kickball on summer nights, they knew exactly which screen door to swing open, and which bedroom was theirs to throw off their damp, sweaty clothes. Mothers no longer tied address tags to their babies' wrists when they set them out to play in backyards. Even the dogs, who were so confused that first year they huddled together on street corners to howl at noon, now knew precisely where their bones were buried, and where they would stretch out for the night.
To have peace with your neighbors you needed to adhere to two unspoken rules: mind your own business and keep up your lawn. And because they all came from the same circumstances, because this was the first house they, and most likely anyone in their family, had ever owned, the unspoken agreement was kept—until Mr. Olivera violated the pact by dying. One day in November, when the sky turned black at four thirty and the children dragged their sleds over to Dead Man's Hill on the other side of the parkway at the first hint of snow, Mr. Olivera climbed into bed, beneath two wool blankets. He turned on his side, breathed deeply three times, thought about adding antifreeze to the radiator of his Chrysler, then went to sleep and never woke up again.
Olivera's wife, who was old-fashioned and made jam from the grapes her husband grew by the side of the house, immediately went to Virginia to stay with her married daughter. While Mrs. Olivera was deciding whether to stay with her daughter or move back to a neighborhood where she would be the only woman over sixty, widowed or not, the house, for reasons no one could fathom, began to fall apart. By Christmas the shutters had split and come off their hinges. By February the concrete along the front stoop was crumbling. Late in the spring, the grass in the front yard grew so tall people swore mosquitoes were breeding there, and they crossed over to the other side of the street so they wouldn't have to pass by. Joe Hennessy, who had been on the Nassau County police force for five years and was up for review, finally dragged out his new power mower and went across the street. Hennessy was six-foot-two, with strong muscles in his back and arms, but after he had cut half the front yard he was so exhausted he had to sit down on the front stoop just to catch his breath. By July, when Mrs. Olivera decided to sell the house, it was too late. By then there was a peculiar smell emanating from it, even though the windows were closed tightly and locked, and the overripe odor, which made people in the neighborhood wonder if a pot of jam had been cooked too long and then forgotten on the rear burner of the stove, drove prospective buyers away.
All through the summer the smell persisted; it grew riper and sweeter each day. The women on the block bought Air Wick and they washed their floors with Lysol, but the smell came in through the screen windows and seemed to slap them in the face. Ace McCarthy, who was seventeen and scared of very little in this world, lived right next door to the Olivera place, and although he would never have told anyone, there were times, late at night, after he had turned off his transistor radio, when he swore he could hear someone groaning. Some jokester on another block, on Poplar or Pine, started the rumor that the house was haunted, and on Saturday nights carloads of teenagers parked outside. The boys honked their horns and dared each other to spend the night in the Olivera house; they called each other chicken and kissed each other's girlfriends, and they wouldn't budge until Joe Hennessy went out, opened the door of his squad car, and let the siren rip.
Why this should happen on their block, of all places, no one was sure. Hadn't they raked all their dead leaves into heaps they burned along the curb each October? Hadn't they brought lemon pound cakes and brownies with walnuts to the bake sales at the elementary school? Their children were rowdy, but good-natured; the worst their teenaged daughters would do was slip a tube of lipstick into their pocketbooks in the drugstore, or eat an entire bag of chips while they baby-sat. The neighbors looked to those around them for an explanation. A punishment of some sort had befallen them, but who was it directed toward? Not John McCarthy, who owned the Texaco station up on Harvey's Turnpike, even though he was the most logical candidate since his house was right next door to Olivera's; but perhaps the curse was aimed at his two wild sons, Jacki eand Ace, who called their father the Saint behind his back. The Shapiros, on the other side of the McCarthys, certainly deserved something that would knock them off their high horse. They'd been suspiciously lucky with their children; Danny was too smart for his own good, and Rickie liked to comb her red hair right in front of you, just to show off. It was unlikely that the punishment was directed at the Durgins—Donna Durgin's house was so clean she put everyone else to shame—or the Winemans, whose crab apple trees formed a bower of pink blossoms each spring; and certainly it was not directed at Joe Hennessy; you could tell Joe was a good husband and father just by looking at him, you were lucky to have someone like Joe living on your block.
But there it was, punishment all the same, and no one was the least surprised when the crows appeared from the south. People turned off their TV sets and their radios and went out to stand on their lawns just to watch. They were big birds, with eyes like rubies, brave enough to chase cocker spaniels and Irish setters out of the Oliveras' yard. When the Hennessys' boy, Stevie, shot at one of them with his BB gun, the largest of the crows caught the BB in its beak, then chased Stevie across the street, managing to tear a patch out of his blue jeans before the boy could escape into his house, crying for his mother. Ellen Hennessy swooped Stevie into her arms, and after she was sure he hadn't been wounded, she ran into the street, waving her apron at the crow, but the bird simply ignored her and went right back to perch on the Oliveras' chimney.
Finally something had to be done. On a Friday night Phil Shapiro and John McCarthy met in Hennessy's rec room after supper. Hennessy's wife had put out some Fritos in a bowl and made sour-cream-and-onion dip, which she set on the laminated bar. Phil Shapiro and John McCarthy tried to get comfortable on the black vinyl couch. Hennessy took the knock-hockey game off the low coffee table and sat down opposite them. In six years the men had rarely been to each other's houses, and then only for a holiday party or to borrow a siphon or a screwdriver. Sitting down face to face and accepting a beer from Hennessy didn't make them any more comfortable. The rec room was in a finished nook of Hennessy's basement, and the washing machine was thumping away behind the knotty-pine-paneled wall. Phil Shapiro was the one who suggested the meeting; he was the one who found out that the realtor wasn't even bothering to show the Olivera house anymore. Phil had come directly from A&S, where he was the head of accounting, and although he hadn't taken time to have supper, he wished he'd gotten out of his suit because John McCarthy was wearing his Texaco uniform and Hennessy wore old chinos and a short-sleeved sports shirt.
"God, it's hot," Phil said, and he took off his tie and put it in his pocket. He sipped a Budweiser, to be polite.
"Hot," John McCarthy agreed.
The three men thought this over and swallowed beer. They could still smell the overripe scent of the Olivera house, even here, across the street.
"The way I see it," Phil Shapiro said, "if we don't do anything, our property values are going straight down."
"That's the way I see it," Hennessy agreed.
"Every time I look next door I worry about some child falling in the window wells or getting trapped inside Olivera's garage," John McCarthy said.
Hennessy and Phil Shapiro were silent, momentarily embarrassed by what now seemed to be their greed. Hennessy had heard the McCarthy kids making fun of their father, calling him the Saint, and it was true: when he looked at you you felt guilty no matter how blameless you might be.
"Well, yes," Phil Shapiro finally said. "Exactly. Someone could get hurt. Those crows could find a pack of matches, rub them the wrong way, and poof, up goes the house in flames."
"I never thought of that," John McCarthy said, worried. "And don't forget that someone could cut across the lawn, get tangled up in the weeds, fall down, and break his leg."
"Yep," Phil Shapiro said. "We need to move on this."
Ellen Hennessy opened the door upstairs and called down, "Can I fix you boys anything else?"
"That's okay, Ellen, we're set," Hennessy said. "Or are you interested?" he asked his neighbors. "Cheese and crackers? Coffee cake?"
Both men politely shook their heads; they preferred to eat at home.
"Set," Hennessy called upstairs. "So," he said to his neighbors.
"So we take an ad in the paper," Phil Shapiro said. "And we have the buyer connect with Mrs. O. down in Virginia."
"Who's going to look at that dump?" Hennessy said. "Anyone you want living on your street?"
"A handyman," John McCarthy said. "A fix-it fellow."
Hennessy stood up and brought over the bowl of Fritos, then took a handful for himself. Getting involved in someone else's business just seemed wrong, but before an hour had gone by it had been decided. Phil Shapiro would contact old Mrs. Olivera and get her okay, Hennessy would place ads in the real-estate sections of three newspapers, and John McCarthy would show the house in the evenings.
Across the street you could see the yellow light in the Hennessys' basement, and from where Danny Shapiro and Ace McCarthy sat, on the bumper of Jackie McCarthy's blue Chevy, it was a truly amazing sight. What on earth could their fathers and Hennessy possibly find to say to each other for more than an hour? Neither of their fathers said more than a few sentences a day to their children, unless pressed by an emergency, but there the men stayed until half past eight, when the yellow light was finally turned off. The men came up the basement stairs and lumbered past Ellen Hennessy; their own kitchens were equally small, so they knew to squeeze past the kitchen table.
"Well, I hope you came up with some good ideas," Ellen said to Hennessy after he'd walked his neighbors to the front door—as if they didn't take the exact same path in their own houses every single day. Hennessy watched his wife wipe down the linoleum countertops with a pink sponge. She was wearing plaid Bermuda shorts and a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar; her hair was cut short, so you could see the back of her neck.
"Sure we did," Hennessy said. He had brought the Fritos upstairs and now he held the bowl and tossed chips into his mouth.
They could hear the crows cawing as they nested for the night. John McCarthy had told the other men that he wore earmuffs to bed so he wouldn't have to hear the birds fussing.
"We're going to dynamite the place."
"Ho," Ellen said, "that's a good one."
The crows didn't bother Ellen as much as they did her husband. She set her hair on wire rollers at night, and before she put on the hairnet she tucked wads of cotton over each ear.
"I like your hair when you don't set it," Hennessy said to her. "Just straight."
"Please," Ellen said. "You've got to be kidding."
Hennessy went to her and put his arm around her waist. The house was small, but at times like this, Hennessy could almost forget that the children, already tucked in, might not yet have fallen asleep. "Let's go to bed early," he said.
"Uh uh," Ellen told him. She wiped the burners of the electric stove with even strokes.
Hennessy let go of her. He waited to see if she would turn around, and when she didn't, when she kept on cleaning, he went to the kitchen hallway that led to the garage. He walked into the garage, flipped on the dim light, and rolled open the door. It was cooler here; a circle of moths gathered around the light bulb that hung from the ceiling. Hennessy didn't even feel angry anymore when she said no. He crouched down behind his workbench, and when Ellen came and stood in the doorway she couldn't see him in the dark, searching for a can of gas.
"Joe?" she called.
Hennessy picked up the gas can and pulled his new mower out of a corner.
"I'm going to finish up at Olivera's," he said.
He rolled the mower out past their car in the driveway, then guided it across the street. Ace McCarthy and Danny Shapiro saw him approaching; they knew, from Hennessy's son, Stevie, that he often wore his gun when he wasn't on duty.
"You boys bored?" Hennessy said as he rolled the mower past them.
"No, sir," Danny Shapiro answered right away.
"Because if you are," Hennessy said, "there's a lawn that needs mowing."
"Oh, no," Ace said. "Sir," he added, so easily you'd never guess how the word stuck in his throat. "This being Friday night, we have much, much better things to do."
"Yeah," Hennessy said, because he suspected Ace of following in his brother's footsteps, with a pocketful of fake I.D.s and those pointy black boots. He probably had some bottled beer cooling in the creek behind the high school. "I'll bet you do," Hennessy said.
The half of the lawn Hennessy had mowed had already grown as tall as the wild side. He stopped in the Oliveras' driveway and looked up at the chimney. The crows cackled to one another, then edged out of their nest and peered down at him. Hennessy had to pull on the mower's starter three times before it caught, and when it finally did, the engine started with a roar that sent the crows circling into the sky, screaming. It took Hennessy nearly an hour just to finish the front lawn. At first the crows tossed stones at him, but after a while they gave up and went back to the chimney; they watched him carefully as he worked.
Excerpted from Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman. Copyright © 1990 Alice Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sevnth Heaven was a fabulous book. Alice Hoffman takes the reader into a typical suburban town where things appear perfect. However, Ms. Hoffman adds a twist making the book difficult to put down. Although an easy read, this book involves the reader directly in the complex lives of the characters while bringing the reader into the small suburban town.
Ms. Hoffman tells the tale of a group of suburban families who, ready or not, are on the cusp of change. A wonderful storyteller, whose able to transform what would otherwise be viewed as a mundane part of every day life, into a thoughtful, as well as page-turning novel. Kudos to you, Ms. Hoffman.
I loved it. It is a fast easy read that will leave you thinking.
There is something about an Alice Hoffman novel. For me, they are food for my soul. ~*~LEB~*~
I did enjoy this story, however was disappointed with the ending. It seemed to have just stopped. A few things, like Nora's son finally working out the issues and Nora being accepted was nice to see, but no big ending. Left more questions than answers in the end. I did love the setting and and the descriptions of the area, were so real, you could picture and feel exactly what it was like to live on their street.
Seventh Heaven is Alice Hoffman¿s 9th stand-alone novel and tells the story of when attractive divorcee Nora Silk came to live in Hemlock Street, Long Island with 8 year-old Billy and baby James. Set in the late `50s, it captures the dispiriting feeling of suburbia. As a divorced woman, Nora found her presence posed a threat and prevented her from being part of the community. The story is told from several different characters¿ perspectives. Hoffman gives us beautiful prose and evocative descriptions that bring the reader right into the moment, even if it is occasionally not such a pleasant one. When Hoffman writes, the reader feels all the anxiety, fear, frustration, joy, sorrow and wonder that her characters feel. I really enjoyed the incongruity of a brilliant butterfly like Nora selling Tupperware to the oppressed moths of suburbia. I loved this novel.
This is Hoffman at her best (and that's very good, indeed), giving us an engaging & empathetic treatment of a mother & son who are outcasts in the small community they move into. It has nice light magical touches, especially in her descriptions of everyday suburban scenes.
Hoffman always writes of the ghosts that haunt people's lives. This book is no exception. However, the more interesting aspect of this book is how well Hoffman has drawn a character that so accurately illustrates the Aphrodite Goddess-type written about by Jane Shiboda Bolen in her book, The Goddess in Every Woman. Aphrodite archetypes are women who, without any conscious knowledge, set off reactions in others for which the Aphrodite-type is often cursed. Aphrodite is called by Shiboda-Bolen the "Alchemical Goddess", the woman who has an inherent sexual charge to her nature, who spurs the unspoken desires in men and the often unacknowledged fears or desires in other women.The setting of this book is the early-1950s in America, where the first housing subdivisions are being built. Conformity is the Rule of the Day, especially the demand for female conformity. In this era, women were tightly controlled and their sexuality was deeply feared. The housing subdivision was a metaphor for the sameness, the standardization of behavior, of looks, of hopes and dreams that were held as the American Ideal of the day.Into this world of houses that all look the same and people who never go outside the boldly delineated lines of social expectation that were drawn for them moves Rita, a divorcee with two young children at a time when divorce was still considered scandalous.Rita sets off a chain of reactions among the residents of the subdivision that transforms each of them.
Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman is a most unusual coming-of-age tale. Here, it is not just one youth who matures into self-discovery and understanding, but a whole community of neighbors¿children, adolescents, and adults. The catalyst comes in the form of Nora Silk, a vibrant, independent, freethinking divorcee who moves into the neighborhood with her two young sons. Twenty months later, everything and everybody has changed.Don¿t expect detailed character development¿there are far too many characters in this novel for that. This work is more like a collection of interlocking short stories than a traditional novel. But this is Alice Hoffman writing so, trust me, you will not feel shortchanged. Her characters are spot-on perfect¿so credible, they practically bleed off the page. With just a few deft words, she can capture an emotion, a life, emptiness, a dream, and make you feel that person¿s essence. It¿s uncanny, magical¿it¿s Alice Hoffman. Clearly, I love this author! The whole plot takes place in a mere 20 months. It is 1959 in the suburbs of New Jersey. This is a time way before the women¿s movement. This is like Pleasantville, U.S.A. From the first moment they see her, the neighbors know that Nora Silk doesn¿t fit in. She wears tight pants and high heel shoes. Her house is untidy, her kids unkempt. She runs her household, holds down a job, and does all the manly fix-it jobs around the house¿and she acts as if all this were perfectly normal. From the very beginning, all the mothers in the neighborhood give her the cold shoulder, but the husbands can¿t keep their eyes off of her. Naturally, this doesn¿t help the situation. The children take cues from their mothers and start taunting and bullying Nora¿s third grade son, Billy. All poor Billy can do in response is to try and learn as much as he can about Houdini so he can become invisible. But there is magic working on Hemlock Street¿subtle, believable magic. The magic is Nora¿s authenticity. It makes all the neighbors who come in contact with her eventually question their own sanitized lives. One-by-one, the facades that each neighbor has constructed to obfuscate their inner selves begin to melt. Lives change. People get hurt, then recover, then go on to become better, more complete, and self-aware human beings¿and all because of Nora.This novel isn¿t for everyone. Most of these characters are deeply flawed, and some of the actions they take can be interpreted by some as being highly immoral. But, they are people who are true to their inner natures, and that¿s what makes them real. See if this book doesn¿t help you love these people for themselves, without judgment. Then perhaps you¿ll find it easier to love yourself and those special people in your life also without judgment. We know we should, but most of us still find this so difficult.
One of my new favorites
Alice Hoffman is a bit hit or miss with me. I loved Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic. White Horses, not so much, although I recognized that the writing was excellent. Seventh Heaven, initially published in 1990, falls somewhere in between. The writing is lovely. The characters are interesting. It’s very evocative of 1959, when things were about to change drastically in so many ways, including the role of women in the world. And yet, there was something that didn’t quite connect with me, and I can’t quite decide what it is. But the writing is indeed lovely and despite my personal disconnect, I still wanted to keep reading and find out where it would take me. So I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt and assuming it was my mood when I read it - it could well be that if I were to read it again a few months from now I’d absolutely love it. Copy provided by Netgalley and Open Road Media in exchange for an unbiased review.
Thought this would be a good story but the more I read the more disgusting it became. It's more like a story about white trash so if that's what you like it's your kind of book - it certainly isn't mine!