Monday, November 9, 2009

Home by Marilynne Robinson - 336 pgs

Book CoverGlory Boughton has come home to Gilead to care for her dying father, the Reverend Robert Boughton. As Glory strives to fulfill her father's exacting demands, she laments the loss of her fiancé and former life, all the while regretting her move back to her stagnant hometown. One morning, the Reverend receives a letter from his wayward son Jack, telling his father that he will soon be returning home. The letter comes very much as a surprise and blessing for the Reverend, as Jack has been absent for 20 years and has had no communication with the family. Jack's history of rebelliousness is long and fraught with shame and pain among the family, and as Jack moves ever homeward, those he left behind struggle with the hope of reunion. As Glory and her father prepare for Jack's arrival, they both find themselves thinking of past hurts and are ever hopeful that Jack's homecoming will be a much needed balm to his father's suffering spirit. But Jack's homecoming is not easy, and it soon becomes apparent that although his father wishes for nothing more than to forgive his son, he cannot. Jack, a quiet and emotionally wounded man, brings with him secrets of his own, and as Glory begins to forge a tentative relationship with him, they both come to find that the peace and contentment they so long for in their family will come at a very dear price. In this poignant tale of the prodigal son, Robinson takes us into the hearts and minds of a family that is at fierce work to be whole, to a place where redemption and reparation are so desperately desired, but unable to come to fruition.

This was an absolutely beautiful book. There were several sections where I found myself so moved by the drama unfolding on the pages that I couldn't help but cry. Robinson writes with such grace and tact that it is impossible not to be moved by her characters' quiet proclamations and heartfelt utterances. Whether it is the sorrow of a life that has been forsaken or the terrible humbleness of Jack's return, the writing is replete with wellsprings of sentiment and passion. The words are quiet and serene, but just underneath the surface I was witnessing torrents of ragged emotion and years of suppressed pain.

The Reverend, ever hopeful and gentle with his children, cannot seem to ever be able to wrap his mind around what it is that his son needs. Although he longs to give his son the forgiveness that he has come home for, he is unable to let the transgressions of the past be unburdened from his heart and give his son peace. It is such a juxtaposition, to see the tenderness that he expresses toward Jack, all the while withholding the one thing that his son most desperately needs, the thing that is so hard for him to ask for. He is constantly at odds with himself, his heart longing to grant pardon and his head ever refusing. It broke my heart to watch these two men fumble so blindly with their intentions, to see them both in so much pain but be unable to express it or relieve it.

Jack, despite being the miscreant in this tale, was the one character whom I felt the most for. He was so spiritually depleted and it seemed as if all of his hope had been abandoned. He was quiet and gentle, yes, but also pitifully humbled and sorrowfully contrite. He seemed to worry himself to distraction, mostly about what others thought of him or what they would think. There was a quiet struggle taking place within: his need for acceptance and forgiveness pitted against his need for self-preservation and secrecy. He had a wry and very self-deprecating attitude in his interactions with Glory, a way of making both more and less of the situations that he found himself in. In his desire for his father's blessing he seemed to expect the wounds he would incur, believing in some way that he deserved them.

I also really liked how the view of Jack from Glory's eyes gave his character more depth. The relationship between the two was fraught with tension, but it was there that Jack seemed to open up. Though he would never really reveal all of his secrets, his attempts to reach out to Glory brought the gentleness and meekness of his character into full relief.

Though I found the last section of the book to be the most emotional section, there were several instances when an ordinary situation would provoke a response from one of the characters that was deeply affecting. Reading this book was much like walking in a minefield; I never knew when something was going to come out and grab me and shake me to the core. During one of the more touching arguments between father and son, the Reverend, full of sorrow, exclaims to his son, "If I'd had to die without seeing your face again, I'd have doubted the goodness of the Lord." The fact that this statement comes from a man of the cloth makes it all the more powerful and affecting. What the book really boils down to is the conundrum of a man of God refusing his most beloved child release, the child in turn unable to finally give his father the peace he so obviously needs. But it is within the framework of this story that Robinson drives her characters to strive and twist in their yearnings to exist as a family complete, a situation that sadly never comes to pass.

I really felt strongly for this book, and I think that anyone who enjoys literature steeped with emotion would enjoy it too. Robinson touches profoundly on the themes of forgiveness, absolution and regret with beautiful accuracy, making this a very quiet but stunning read. This book is a companion to Robinson's 2004 novel Gilead. Both books take place at the same time, so it's not necessary to read them in any particular order. Highly recommended.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I did not like this book, and right now I can't recall why as I read it when it first was released. I did like Gilead though.

I'm glad it worked for you though!

bermudaonion said...

I love books that draw me in and evoke emotions like that. This is in my TBR pile and now I can't wait to read it.

Steph said...

I haven't read this one, but I do have Robinson's first two books at home - both unread! It seems like Gilead/Home are books that people either really love and are affected by, or that you find boring and don't like. I have no idea which camp I will fall in, but I do hope it's the former!

Suko said...

Thanks for a sensitive review. It sounds like a beautiful book. (I vowed not to add any more books to my TBR list, but. . . .)

Petunia said...

I listened to this one on audiobook. It was beautiful and emotional and everything that you describe. The reader feels bound up inside just as the characters are. Jack was an unforgettable guy.

Hazra said...

I loved your review. It's obvious that this book affected you deeply. Thanks for such an in-depth review; you have me intrigued about the book.

Elizabeth said...

I think I need to be in the right reading "space" in my mind to read these - I have a feeling I will enjoy them, but need to be able to read without much distraction. I will give them a try at some point, though!

Aarti said...

I haven't read Gilead, so I suppose if I want to read this one, I'll have to read that one first! Darn :-) Is this a religious book? It seems from your review that it might be, but I'm not entirely sure. Maybe I just got that impression from "spiritually depleted," which is now one of my favorite phrases :-)

Zibilee said...

I wouldn't exactly call this a religious book, but it does definitely have religious themes in it. I would say this is mostly a book about forgiveness and how forgiveness absolves both the person who grants it, and the person who receives it. One of the main characters in the book is a very religious man, but it seems as though his religion ultimately fails him. So I would have to say the answer depends on the way you read the book. On the one hand it can be interpreted as religious, but on the other it can be interpreted as more of an interpersonal story.

Marie Cloutier said...

Sounds like a beautiful book and right up my alley! Thanks for the great review!! :-)

Ana S. said...

Everyone keeps telling me how beautiful, gentle and moving Robinson's writing is - I must read her before long. Lovely review.

Darlene said...

I remember seeing this book a while back and thinking I would like it. Your review reinforces that opinion. I'm going to have to get this one. Great review.

Anonymous said...


I just finished this book and I don't see any absolution.

Rev. Boughton doesn't seem to have a peace about his son unless you consider his senility peaceful, and Jack leaves Gilead hopeless.

"The Lord is wonderful." is that a joke? or does Glory truly believe a prayer was answered (I'm assuming this prayer is that Jack will return home?..which is answered by Jack's son coming home)

I enjoyed parts of this book. But it ends before anything is resloved.

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