Home by Marilynne Robinson
Finished: Sept. 12, 2008
First Published: Sept. 2, 2008
Genre: realistic fiction
Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.
"Home to stay, Glory! Yes!" her father said, and her heart sank.
Comments: How to start a review on this book? There is very little plot. Jack, black-sheep of the Reverend Boughton's family, returns home after a twenty year absence. At home is his younger sister, who has fallen upon hard times and his dying father, the Reverend. The book revolves around the characters and how they interact.
The Reverend Boughton desperately wants to know the condition of Jack's soul before he dies. Jack is unable to give him this solace though he tries. Jack has sinned deeply during his twenty year absence and yet there are glimpses into a good person, which the reader of Gilead will already know. So here is a man both sinner and worker of grace. Yet, unable to tell his father his secrets.
The theme of parental disappointment in their own adult child is also strong and I was particularly hit with this quotation from the book. I think this is a feeling that many parents of grown children who have strayed from the path will resonate with.
"Kinder to him! I thanked God for him every day of his life, no matter how much grief, how much sorrow -- and at the end of it all there is only more grief, more sorrow, and his life will go on that way, no help for it now You see something beautiful in a child, and you almost live for it, you feel as though you would die for it, but it isn't yours to keep or to protect. And if the child becomes a man who has n o respect for himself, it's just destroyed till you can hardly remember what it was ... It's like watching a child die in your arms." [pg. 294]
This book is a companion piece to Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead. Those who have read Gilead will recognise that this family appeared in that book. This book is entirely set in 1961 and Reverend Ames and his family play a small part in this tale. Those who enjoyed Gilead will most certainly enjoy Home.
To me, Home, is the better of the two. The depth of characterization is tremendous and the essence of life and death hangs in the air throughout the book. There is a lot of dialogue in this story and less theological dissertations than Gilead, which I must admit my mind wandered through somewhat. Though there is a heavy Christian theme of redemption and grace. I did find the ending rather anti-climatic though as both Gilead and Home present a secret that Jack is keeping and the secret is revealed at the end of both books so once one book has been read the secret seems pointless as a plot point in the other.
Though Home is independent of Gilead and publishers are promoting that they can be read as stand-alones. I think there is a knowledge of Jack, an insider's viewpoint, that strengthens his character in Home which readers who have not previously read Gilead will not recognize. Therefore, I recommend the books being read in the order they were published. If characterization is more compelling to your reading than a fast moving plot you will enjoy Home very much, as will anyone who has read and enjoyed Gilead.