Home - Book of the Month
by Marilynne Robinson
“Home. What kinder place could there be on earth, and why did it seem to them all like exile?”
Jack, beloved son, alcoholic and reprobate, returns home after twenty years to try and make his peace with his dying father. He is the black sheep of a large, loving, deeply religious family and his homecoming, while eagerly anticipated and welcomed, is fraught with bitterness and recrimination.
Marilynne Robinson’s third novel tells the same story as her previous book, GILEAD, but from a different perspective. Set in the same small Iowa town, it is told from the point of view of Jack’s sister, Reverend Boughton’s youngest daughter, Glory. She, too, has come home, herself a refugee from a miserable past with a sense of failure hanging over her. During the weeks they spend together, a trust and understanding, slowly and uneasily, develops between her and Jack and they unfold their unhappy histories to each other.
Brother and sister are united in their loneliness. Glory has grown up, despite her cleverness, with a sense of being, as a woman, “of a second rank, however pious, however beloved, however honoured”. She knew that to her father’s mind, the world’s great work was the business of men and this is the basis of the sad fact of her low expectations of herself and the pathos of her relationship with her ‘fiance’. Whereas Jack’s consistently self-destructive route through life has seemed to have the purpose of confounding and then endorsing the expectations placed upon him.
Gilead the town bears the weight of being emblematic of home in its multitude of meanings, where a return feels as much like failure as comfort, where hope is stifled and waiting for anything other than death becomes a penance. Glory’s thoughts reflect her ambivalent feelings for her home town:
“A hot white sky and a soft wind, a murmur among the trees, the treble rasp of a few cicadas. There were acorns in the road, some of them broken by passing cars. Chrysanthemums were coming into bloom. Yellowing squash vines swamped the vegetable gardens and tomato plants hung from their stakes, depleted with bearing. Another summer in Gilead. Gilead, dreaming out its curse of sameness, somnolence. How could anyone want to live here?”
This quiet novel is a complex, subtle, nuanced portrait of three people and, whether it is the description of Jack’s tent in the barn or the dining room table set for three in anticipation of his return, Robinson has a gift for illustrating with economy the emotional core of her characters. Each page of the book is humming with the richness and effortless beauty of her writing.
HOME is short-listed for the Orange Prize for fiction and my money is on it to win.
Read our interview with Marilynne Robinson.