Friday, October 10, 2014

Two by Marilynne Robinson

I have read three of Marilynne Robinson's novels.  Two of them are discussed below and Gilead which came between them, which I hope to comment on at some future date.  Her writing style is impeccable and a joy to read. I heartily recommend all of her novels to readers who love beautiful prose and thought-provoking domestic tales.


Housekeeping“Then there is the matter of my mother's abandonment of me. Again, this is the common experience. They walk ahead of us, and walk too fast, and forget us, they are so lost in thoughts of their own, and soon or late they disappear. The only mystery is that we expect it to be otherwise.”   ― Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

The housekeeping that is described in this fascinating novel from the pen of Marilynne Robinson is different than any I have ever experienced and that is part of the charm of the book. Add to that the elegant prose style of Ms. Robinson and you have all you need for a great book. The story is set in a fictional town in the Pacific Northwest that rests along a lake that casts an ominous shadow; it has the distinction of once having claimed an entire train that slid from a bridge into its dark waters one night, taking almost all on board to their deaths. Time swallows people in the same way in this seductive book (although not everyone in our book discussion group was taken with its charms).
The narrator is Ruth, a teenaged girl. She and her sister are raised, affectionately but haphazardly, by various generations of the women in her very eccentric family. This is a book about women, making homes, and leaving them. Even when the girls stay home, the days and nights pass and the plot goes nowhere in particular, but you do not mind because the author has such a masterful way with words.


Home (Gilead, #2)“He will talk to me a little while, too shy to tell me why he has come, and then he will thank me and leave, walking backward a few steps, thinking, Yes, the barn is still there, yes, the lilacs, even the pot of petunias. This was my father's house. And I will think, He is young. He cannot know that my whole like has come down to this moment. 
That he has answered his father's prayers.”   ― Marilynne Robinson, Home

Marilynne Robinson's novel, Home, is in part a variation on the theme of the prodigal son. However in this case, the father, Reverend Robert Boughton, does not role out the red carpet. 
Just as she did in her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson evokes themes from the Bible to provide thematic foundation for her narrative. As this story proceeds we begin to get a picture of a man deeply disappointed in his son and who seemingly, in spite of some words that suggest otherwise, would have preferred that his son not return after an absence of twenty years. While his daughter Glory, who is living at home caring for him, is willing to attempt to reconnect with her brother Jack as she deals with her own personal regrets, Reverend Boughton is gradually portrayed as a vain bitter old man, shorn of the more loving aspects of the Christian belief system. Doubt and distrust of his son, not altogether unwarranted, but certainly unexpected from a man of the cloth, consume the Reverend whose blood ties with this broken son do not help him overcome his antipathy for flaws that do not seem to be beyond forgiveness.
But the old man said, "Come here son," and he took Jack's hands and caressed them and touched them to his cheek. He said, "It's a powerful thing, family."  And Jack laughed. "Yes, sir. Yes, it is. I do know that."  
"Well," he said, "at least you're home." (p 176)
Others have shown some trust in Jack, but all seem to harbor doubts in this beautifully-written novel that shares its local and some characters with Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead. In Gilead father and daughter remain as the rest of the family gathers to see their father through his last days, but the prodigal . . . well, read the book and find out.

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Brian Joseph said...

I have not read Marilynne Robinson but these sound good.

The connection between the train being "swallowed" and people being swallowed by life sounds effective and moving.

James said...


Thanks for your observation. Robinson is a very good writer and worth considering if you are interested in her combination of domestic and theological issues expressed in beautiful prose. While her first novel was just quirk, Home and its predecessor Gilead are focus on more serious issues.