Marilynne Robinson

My brief review in the WSJ of Marilynne Robinson’s Home came out yesterday. Part of me wishes that I had been given more room to write about it, because there’s a lot to say about this rich, deep story; but another part of me is glad that I was so constrained, because, like its predecessor Gilead, it’s not the kind of book to which one can have a reliable immediate reaction. When I first read Gilead I liked it — I found its prose especially beautiful — though I wasn’t overwhelmed. But scenes from the book stayed in my mind and seemed to grow stronger there; and eventually, when I couldn’t dismiss them, I re-read the book, and then it flowered fully.

So I don’t know what I will end up thinking about Home. Even looking at my review, which I wrote so recently, I now think that I overstressed the sadness of the book, and neglected its piercing moments of hope. What I’ll think in a year I can’t know.

At the moment I’m inclined to say that Home is a slightly lesser book, though it’s so closely intertwined with Gilead that it’s hard (and maybe inappropriate) to consider it separately. Its third-person narration, while beautiful, is perhaps a touch less resonant than the memorable voice of John Ames. But I cannot think of a character in recent fiction more vivid, and more utterly heartbreaking, than Jack Boughton.

This morning in the Times of London Brian Appleyard has an article about Robinson that concludes, “Now let me be clear - I’m not saying that you’re actually dead if you haven’t read Marilynne Robinson, but I honestly couldn’t say you’re fully alive.” This may well be right.