Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Home by Marilyn Robinson
This book almost broke my heart. It is a very simple and complex story. I know that sounds contradictory, but it isn’t in the book. The story is set in the town of Gilead and concerns the Boughton family. Marilyn Robinson’s last book, Gilead, was about the Rev. John Ames family. (It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005). Home is about Rev.Robert Boughton’s family. Rev. Boughton and Rev. Ames are life-long friends. Rev. Boughton is retired, and physically not well. His wife had died sometime before and none of his children had settled in Gilead. His daughter, Glory, is single and comes home to care for him, as he begins to settle into old age. Soon, messages come announcing that his son, Jack, is coming home. Jack had not had contact with the family for the past 20 years. Even when his mother died, no one heard from him. No one knew what had become of him. He had always been a mystery to the family, kept to himself, etc. Yet there was something about Jack that everyone loved, cherished and missed terribly when he was gone.
Jack finally shows up and is reluctant to make himself part of their little family. He still tends to keep to himself and carries around the feeling that he is not worthy of these people. It appears that Jack’s drinking is the scourge that Jack carries around, but I think that the real scourge is his feeling of never fitting in with the family. At one point he makes a comment about remembering when he was young watching the others (his siblings) going in the back door like they belonged there and how envious he was of that feeling. As soon as he arrived at home in Gilead, he talked about when he would be gone again, leaving no doubt in Glory’s mind that he would not be staying for long.
Meanwhile, the book is also examining the Rev. Boughton’s struggle with dying and his struggle with forgiveness for his most beloved son. At one point, Glory tells her father that it was hard for Jack to come back to them and he should be kinder to him. Her father responds: “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 no 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.”. A little later, Rev. Boughton is talking about seeing Jack’s mother in heaven and says “I was hoping I would be able to tell her that Jack had come home.” , to which Jack whispers, “I hope you will give her my love.” Heartbreaking.
Another theme running through the book is watching Glory struggle with the awakening knowledge that this has become her life. She will never have the husband and children that she dreamed of, but will live the rest of her life in Gilead in the home where she was raised. Probably always waiting for Jack to reappear.
This is a book of great sadnesses. Yet, it also a book about great love.
And I loved the book.