Thursday, November 13, 2008

Going Home

It was Robert Frost who said: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." So it is in Marilynne Robinson's newest novel, Home. Robert Boughton, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife had eight children: 4 girls (Faith, Hope, Grace and Glory) and 4 boys (Luke, Dan, Jack and Teddy). (What do you notice?) There is now an extended family: six of the children are married, adding six in-laws, with twenty-two children. Six of them are married, with six more in-laws, and five grandchildren. At the beginning of the novel, the senior Mrs. Boughton is deceased and the retired Reverend Boughton has been living alone in the family home in Gilead, Iowa.

Then, Glory, the youngest, at age 38 returns home to live. She had moved away and been a high school English teacher for 13 years. The unhappy termination of a long-term romantic relationship brings her home. Once at home she takes over the housekeeping and care for her increasingly frail father and they begin to settle into their routine. Until Jack returns - Jack, the Prodigal Son. Jack had been missing for 20 years. No one knew if he were alive. He hadn't even come to his mother's funeral. He had been the typical ne'er-do-well child, at times a truant and a thief, and finally himself a father who abandons the unwed mother and child and leaves Gilead. For all that, as in the parable, Jack is the dearest to his father of them all, the one who is missed at all of the family gatherings and who is welcomed home by the Reverend with undisguised and unbounded joy. Even Glory, despite her initial hurt and resentment, is glad to have him back. As a child, she too had always sought unsuccessfully for the approval of her older brother.

Robinson by turns explores the relationship between each pair of these three principal characters. Each is complicated. Watching as Glory and Jack reveal themselves to each other, their hopes and heartaches, is especially moving. Their father's struggle with his love and his fear of losing this son is wrenching. The portrait of life in their small rural town in 1956 is beautifully drawn. I will be thinking about this book for a long time: What is sin? What is grace? What is home?

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