27 September 2009

Home; Marilynne Robinson

Home: A Novel Home: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book that was just so apt for the day in which I read it! While not about Jewish themes, the overall message of forgiving and making peace with each other and the past resonated.

Robinson's return to the Iowa town of Gilead is just as quiet, just as infused with Presbyterianism and morality as Gilead was. This time, we're with the Boughton's, Rev. Ames' neighbors. Jack, the troubled namesake that has worried Ames so much comes home after twenty years away. Glory (or Pigtails), the youngest daughter, has moved back to live with and take care of their failing father. The interactions between the four never reach the realm of real drama, it's all about the interior life.

Glory's return seems to be predicated on her losing her teaching job after marrying her longtime fiance - only there's no sign of a husband, ex or otherwise. She's settled in "temporarily", taking care of her father and the house (which she hates, feeling it's too old, too large, too something for the town). Her older siblings seem content to let her take on this burden, although there are plenty of letters and a few phone calls from them to ease her way. Of course, she has a secret that she shares, after a time, with Jack.

Jack, on the other hand, is clearly broken and just as clearly suffering from alcohol withdrawal. The shaky hands made me wonder how bad his condition was, although he swears he was sober for the past 7 1/2 years. Turns out he met a woman, fell in love and tried to turn his life around... except her father decided that he was nothing but trouble (having heard about Jack's past) and kicked him out. How much of that is true is open for debate, but clearly Jack has come home not to reconcile with his father but to reconcile with Ames (who's having none of it).

In the end, Glory is trapped in the house that her father has left her, Rev. Boughton's dying, and Jack has once again left, not appreciably more at peace than when he arrived. Della, his wife, comes by shortly after, bringing with her their son (unmentioned by Jack in any of his conversations). There's a slight twist here, one that should be obvious to the reader, but I won't give it away.

As I said, the themes of forgiveness, forgetting, redemption and morality are so well drawn here that the book is not an easy read: you will think about this long after you're done. Two friends/readers that read Gilead didn't like it, and I suspect it's because they're Jews and the Christianity made them uncomfortable. Here, that part is less front and center; I hope they give it a chance.

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