March 15th, 2014

Review: Home by Marilynne Robinson

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by Marilynne Robinson

A companion novel to Gilead

After ending her relationship with the great love of her life, Glory Boughton returns to the small town of Gilead to care for her ailing father. Reverend Robert Boughton, a cantankerous old preacher, longs to see his son Jack, who left Gilead decades ago under a cloud of scandal. When the long-awaited letter from Jack finally arrives, the Reverend can barely contain his excitement. Glory still has reservations, which are shared by her father's best friend, John Ames (the narrator of Gilead). When Jack shows up, several days after he initially planned to arrive, his father is filled with joy. As time passes, and Jack and Boughton constantly butt heads, Glory begins to wonder just what brought her brother back home.

Gilead and Home cover roughly the same period of time, but tell the story from different perspectives. Many of the incidents and conversations are the same, even identical. But the mood and scope of the stories are completely different. Gilead is an old man's attempt to pass on his family's legacy and something of his character to his son, whom he will not live to see grow up. Home is more contained, a quieter novel that focuses on adult children who shoulder the burden of caring for their dying father while still struggling with their own problems. It is not necessary to read the older novel before starting the newer one. Perhaps it would be better not to, for Home suffers considerably when compared to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead.

The biggest problem I have with this book is that nothing much happens. Glory doesn't have the wisdom of age or the poetic voice of a preacher, so she focuses on the endless monotony of the mundane: ironing shirts, cooking and grocery shopping, and making endless cups of coffee. I feel like not five pages goes by without some character, nearly always Glory or Jack, asking for or regretting their lack of coffee.

As in Gilead, much time is spent puzzling over the nature of Jack. A troubled child who grew up into an alcoholic, Jack is nursing a broken heart as he cares for his father. Readers of Gilead will remember why Jack refuses to discuss his past with his family, and knowing this does make his character seem more sympathetic. Without this prior knowledge, he come across as a drifter and a self-obsessed loser who refuses to engage in the world around him. Obviously, he's depressed, but the way that everyone in the book can't stop thinking about him is very strange. But one does feel sorry for him; Jack is constantly being nagged or passively berated by his father for his failings.

One feels even worse for Glory, a college-educated woman who supported herself for years as a teacher but has now been reduced to a drudge, cleaning up after these two men. Her father generally ignores her contributions to the household, so focused is he on lavishing attention on his wayward son. It's a little heartbreaking.

I really enjoyed Gilead so I was excited when I heard that Robinson had written this companion novel. But little happens and there's absolutely no suspense in the plot because we already know everything that will happen! There's a poignancy that comes from this book's study of despair and a life lived with little or no faith, contrasting sharply with the absolute faith of Reverend Boughton and Reverend Ames, but though I finished the book I often wished I had just given up and stopped instead of sloggin through.

2.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Home, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2013: The Italian Woman (Catherine de' Medici Trilogy #2) by Jean Plaidy
2012: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee
2011: Fool's Gold Vol. 2 by Amy Reeder Hadley
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: In the Footsteps of Paul by Ken Duncan