“This just happens to me,” Glory says as the tears form in her eyes again.
It was that line that told me why my father so very much wanted me to read Home by Marilynne Robinson, a book I had been avoiding because, well, it hit a little too “close to home” for me. A 38 year old woman moves back to her childhood house because a relationship has imploded and because her aging father needs care. Too close.
But when I did listen to it – a situation brought about by the lack of any other audio book in my car and the scarcity of time to go get one – well, I was enwrapped in the quilt of Robinson’s writing, just as I had been with Gilead. There’s a quietness to Robinson’s writing that mimics the quietness of the daily. So much of the story is the daily – sure there are catalysts and potentials for change, all the things that make great fiction. But it’s the daily that holds the story. One of my favorite lines is when Glory removes the percolator from the stove because it is to the “strength and heat of her family’s liking” (to paraphrase.) That sentence says so much of who this Boughton family is, of the strength in their tie to one another . . . the way family is central to ourselves, for good or ill.
For all of her conviction, Robinson is not a desperate writer. She doesn’t over-describe or explain or try to convince you of anything. Gertrude Stein said she wrote for herself and for strangers. I think Marilynne Robinson writes for herself. Every worthy writer does, write for that self, that stranger, familiarly strange. She tells her story—it’s all any writer has to tell—but because it’s true, there is a place inside of it for us. A story about everybody is a story about no one. She makes you think that, happy or not, every family is different. And so, every family is just like yours.
Robinson is able to capture those days – I expect you have them just as I do – where some things are very hard, some things bring us to tears over and over, and yet, when we go to explain our tears to someone, we fail because, well, it’s just life, and sometimes life can’t be spun into words.
Unless, of course, you’re Marilynne Robinson.
If you’re interested in questions of faith and doubt, stories of family and loss, the challenges of racial equality, the power of addiction and the grace of forgiveness, this book would find a good place on your to-be-read list.
Have your read Robinson’s work? If so, what were your thoughts?