Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: Home

Home - Marilynne Robinson

The first hundred pages of Marilynne Robinson's Home are boring. Disappointing. Having thoroughly enjoyed her novel Housekeeping, I wondered how this novel could be so dry and shallow. Glory, a grown woman, having some unmentioned embarrassment, has returned to the home of her youth to look after her aging father. These first hundred pages are filled with descriptions of life in the house now and reflections of life in the house when she was young. And then one of her brothers returns home and the story becomes deep, rich, and finally compelling.

Jack was the outcast, the one of six or seven children who set himself apart. The anxiety of his appearance is palpable. The father feels he did wrong by his son, obviously failed him in some way that led him to be so distant and to get himself into the trouble that followed him into adulthood. Glory, some years younger, had held a magical sort of notion of her older brother, believing she always had some connection to him.

Jack has also suffered some embarrassment, or many of them, including jail or prison, alcoholism, homelessness, and some sort of current entanglement with a woman with whom he hopes to reconcile. He is awkward, embarrassed by who he is, socially inept in a way that Robinson makes real. Not only do you sense his sorts of fits and starts in trying to be a good son, a good brother, someone deserving of respect and maybe forgiveness, but Glory's embarrassment for him is also strongly felt. She wishes he could get over it all and just relax, she feels bad for him, but she is also embarrassed. Maybe for the respect she has always had for him.

It turns out that Jack is concerned about his soul. With his father and his father's best friend both clergy, the novel is heavy on theology. But never to the point of turning away the heathen. Jack is looking for help, knows his scripture, but can't bring himself to believe it.

The conversations in the novel surround grace, predestination, salvation, and perdition, but at the bottom of it all is the idea of identity. Each of the novel's main characters suffer from a lack of understanding of whom they have become. They have difficulty knowing how they got from who they were to who they are. And how far off who they are is from who they they would prefer to be.

And all of this is carried with enough tension, enough action to keep the reader moving along. Enough of everything to make up for the failings of the first hundred pages.

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