Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Home — A Novel To Be Savoured — Martin


In order to talk about Home, it’s impossible to not talk about Gilead (2004),Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. That’s because the home spoken of is in the imaginary town of Gilead, Iowa, and the characters are those from the previous novel. When I read Gilead, I didn’t want it to end. Robinson has, thankfully, added to her earlier triumph.

The differences are subtle. Gilead is a beautiful, literary novel, written from the perspective of an elderly Congregationalist minister John Ames. Beginning in 1956, he is writing about his life to his young son, who he fears will have few direct memories of his father, if the minister’s heart condition continues to deteriorate. Ames had lost his first wife in childbirth, and has recently married a much younger woman. Ames’ best friend is Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, William Boughton. Both men have named a son after each other. John Ames Boughton (Jack), unfortunately, became a wayward man who left his family in disgrace when he left Gilead. Gilead moves slowly but surely because Robinson’s powerful characters wrestle through important life issues with both weakness and deep faith.

Home takes place in the early ‘60s. It comes from the perspective of Glory, the youngest of William Boughton’s children. She has returned “home” to care for her aging father, after her own life hasn’t turned out as she had hoped. Significantly, Jack also returns “home” after a twenty-year, uncommunicative absence. He hadn’t even appeared at his mother’s funeral. Jack’s life has moved from disappointment to disaster, and now he has alcoholism and years of broken relationships to deal with.

Glory struggles with the faith she learned from her parents, Jack’s narrow rejection of salvation despite his intellectual acknowledgement of Christian truth, and the town’s readiness to write Jack off for his sins. She views things through a more complex lens. Glory has her own sins to deal with, and has such compassion for her troubled brother because she understands how circumstances sometimes turn against us.

I highly recommend Home, but suggest you should start with Gilead. If we’re fortunate, Marilynne Robinson will write yet another sequel. I know I’ll be ready to buy it.

Home is published by Harper Collins (2009)

D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

1 comment:

violet said...

Excellent book! I also read it this spring, in fact, this very morning came across my notes on it. But I never wrote a review. It's one of those books that's so big, it's hard to pin down. Marilynne Robinson is worth studying for her simple but deep prose.

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