Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Release Spotlight: Home

by Marilynne Robinson

Anyone familiar with Marilynne Robinson’s work is familiar with her slow, thoughtful, sensitive style that not only allows the reader to understand every minute detail in thought and activity between her characters, but also allows the reader to feel what her characters feel, to empathize on a deeply emotional and spiritual level. Home carries this sensitivity toward character to its extreme, where almost no interaction or memory goes without scrutiny—and while this may seem tedious or plodding to some readers, it excellently portrays the complexity of human interaction, especially between family members with secrets.

Home is Marilynne Robinson’s third novel, and her first since Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005. It is also set in Gilead, Iowa, and occurs simultaneous to the events in Gilead, and deals with some of the same characters; but it does not require familiarity with its companion novel to be appreciated in its own right. It deals with the Boughton family, specifically the relationship between the dying patriarch and two of his most estranged children—Glory, a middle-aged high school English teacher, and Jack, the most beloved but also most wayward child of the family, who is an alcoholic and has been out of contact with the family for twenty years.

Much of the story focuses on the relationship between Jack and Glory, which seems to develop at first more out of necessity than anything else. However, as they become more comfortable with each other, they begin to find a way to deal with the past, as well as the present, through their mutual situation; this is where the novel is most emotionally compelling, as the reader is given almost unabated access to every subtlety and nuance of their interactions. For example, when Jack first arrives at the house in Gilead, he is hungover and asks Glory if he can rest awhile, and Glory responds, “‘It seems like old times, sneaking you upstairs with a bottle of aspirin.’ She had meant this as a joke of sorts, but he gave her a startled look, and she was sorry she had said it.” And this interaction, like most other interactions in the novel, is addressed again, and re-explained, later in the narrative.

Robinson’s command of her narrative is astounding. However, at times her command of language and syntax does not feel as confident or masterful as one familiar with her other work might expect. Perhaps this is due to the care she gives to the nuance and complexity of her characters, which is entirely forgivable—that which allows us to feel real empathy for fictional characters can probably allow us to overlook occasionally awkward language.

Robinson’s themes deal with family, history, and spirituality in a direct, human way. Early in the narrative, Robinson recounts how Jack and Glory’s father, Reverend Robert Boughton, suddenly loses a strong conviction for a minor issue “during a long night when his belief in the rightness of his position dissipated like mist, under no real scrutiny.” The spirituality of everyday life, coupled with the effects of time, allow her work to transcend the ordinary while remaining sensitive to the complexity and subtlety of all human life, regardless of belief or conviction.

Review by Caleb Murray, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN: 978-0-374-29910-1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pub Date: Forthcoming (tentatively September 2008)
Hardcover: $25.00


  1. jmscher6:31 PM

    I really looking forward to this one. Thanks for the review. I've been rereading Gilead in anticipation. I'm curious as to how you think it stacks up with Housekeeping and Gilead.

  2. I loved Housekeeping. Compared with Home, it seemed a bit more controlled, and the pacing and development felt more natural. Home is a beautiful novel, though, especially the first half; something I didn't mention in the review, but should have, is that the second half is less effective, as it relies too heavily on dialogue to convey character and emotion. I'd like to hear what others think about it.