Home: A Novel

By Marilynne Robinson
Publisher:Picador, (9/1/2009)

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A New York Times Bestseller
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
A Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

Hailed as "incandescent," "magnificent," and "a literary miracle" (Entertainment Weekly), hundreds of thousands of readers were enthralled by Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. Now Robinson returns with a brilliantly imagined retelling of the prodigal son parable, set at the same moment and in the same Iowa town as Gilead. The Reverend Boughton's hell-raising son, Jack, has come home after twenty years away. Artful and devious in his youth, now an alcoholic carrying two decades worth of secrets, he is perpetually at odds with his traditionalist father, though he remains his most beloved child. As Jack tries to make peace with his father, he begins to forge an intense bond with his sister Glory, herself returning home with a broken heart and turbulent past. Home is a luminous and healing book about families, family secrets, and faith from one of America's most beloved and acclaimed authors.

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Amazon.com Review
Amazon Best of the Month, September 2008: "What does it mean to come home?" In one way or another, every character in Home is searching for that answer. Glory Boughton, now 38 and lovelorn, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Her wayward brother Jack also finds his way back, though his is an uneasy homecoming, reverberating with the scandal that drove him away twenty years earlier. Glory and Jack unravel their stories slowly, speaking to each other more in movements than in words--a careful glance here, a chair pulled out from the table there--against a domestic backdrop so richly imagined you may be fooled into believing their house is your own. Meanwhile, their father, whose ebullient love for his children is a welcome counterpoint to Glory and Jack's conflicted emotions, experiences his own kind of reckoning as he yearns to understand his troubled son. There is a simplicity to this story that belies the complexity of its characters--they are bound together by a profound capacity for love and by an equally powerful sense of private conviction that tries the ties that bind, but never breaks them. It's a delicate sort of tension that you think would resist exposition--and in fact these characters seem to want nothing more than, as Glory says, to treat "one another's deceptions like truth"--but Marilynne Robinson's fine, tender prose imbues this family's secrets with an overwhelming grace. --Anne Bartholomew

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Robinson's beautiful new novel, a companion piece to her Pulitzer Prize–winning Gilead, is an elegant variation on the parable of the prodigal son's return. The son is Jack Boughton, one of the eight children of Robert Boughton, the former Gilead, Iowa, pastor, who now, in 1957, is a widowed and dying man. Jack returns home shortly after his sister, 38-year-old Glory, moves in to nurse their father, and it is through Glory's eyes that we see Jack's drama unfold. When Glory last laid eyes on Jack, she was 16, and he was leaving Gilead with a reputation as a thief and a scoundrel, having just gotten an underage girl pregnant. By his account, he'd since lived as a vagrant, drunk and jailbird until he fell in with a woman named Della in St. Louis. By degrees, Jack and Glory bond while taking care of their father, but when Jack's letters to Della are returned unopened, Glory has to deal with Jack's relapse into bad habits and the effect it has on their father. In giving an ancient drama of grace and perdition such a strong domestic setup, Robinson stakes a fierce claim to a divine recognition behind the rituals of home. (Sept.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Ron Charles Marilynne Robinson's mournful new novel, Home, is not a sequel or a prequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead (2004) but rather a companion. And companionship, it turns out, is what all the lonely people in this book are seeking. Set in the same Iowa town, just a short distance from Rev. John Ames, the dying narrator of Gilead, the events in Home take place concurrently with those of that other novel. This time, however, we're in the house of Rev. Robert Boughton, Ames's longtime friend, who's equally close to putting on "imperishability." The publisher claims these two novels can be read separately, but that's not fair to the profound relationship between them nor, I think, to the way Home depends on its predecessor for detail and resonance. Indeed, as meditative and spare as Gilead is, it now seems downright hyperactive next to this ruminative new volume. Rev. Ames, you will recall, spiced his reflections on life and God with wild tales of his one-eyed grandfather, who rode with the abolition terrorist John Brown. There are deadly adventures in Home, too, but they take place offstage, and they're never mentioned, only outlined by the pained silence of those who cannot forget. Almost all the physical movement of this story is exhausted in its opening pages with the return of Glory, the youngest of Boughton's eight children. Robinson writes in the third person, but we see the events that unfold over the following months in 1950 from Glory's point of view. Her father is overjoyed to see her, and neither of them mentions the collapsed engagement and abandoned career that have brought her back to live in her childhood house at the age of 38. "Nothing about that house ever did change," she thinks, "except to fade or scar or wear." Now, forced to abandon dreams of a husband and a child of her own, she's haunted by the question, "What does it mean to come home?" With so much nursing and housekeeping to be done, both of them can pretend that Glory has returned entirely for her father's sake. "She did not permit herself to brood, strong as the urge was sometimes," Robinson writes. "She could decide nothing about her life. She did not want to think about her life." Their quiet routine is soon interrupted by the return of another wayward Boughton child. The black sheep in this otherwise happy family, Jack was a petty thief and a brooding drunk who skipped town 20 years before, leaving behind his teenage girlfriend, a baby and a cloud of shame. During the intervening years, Jack continued to torture his parents by spurning every offer of assistance no matter how desperate his circumstances. When he finally returns -- thin, pale, unkempt -- Glory barely recognizes him. Though she once idolized him, now he seems to her "the weight on the family's heart, the unnamed absence, like the hero in a melancholy tale." But their father -- a man of "tireless tenderness" -- is giddy, thrilled by the possibility that his boundless love may finally open the heart of his wary, rueful child. This is a version of the Prodigal Son that picks up where the Gospel parable stops, after the extravagant feast, when the excitement of reunion fades in the awkwardness of the next day, and then the next. Robinson has constructed a plot so still that it seems at times more a series of tableaux than a novel. The tension in Home is palpable but invisible. Rev. Boughton, Glory and Jack move through domestic chores and hesitant conversations, fraught with the danger of confession or rapprochement or affection. Glory and her father are determined to make their love known to Jack, but the possibility of his bolting again renders them all timid and formal. "They had always been so careful of him," Robinson writes, "almost afraid to touch him. There was an aloofness about him more thoroughgoing than modesty or reticence. It was feral, and fragile." Jack is a man in the throes of a spiritual crisis, which Robinson captures with the most exquisite precision. An alcoholic clutching at the edges of sobriety, he's tempted to think he can clean himself up, but he's desperately afraid of failing, knowing that one more slip could kill both him and his long suffering father. With a mixture of affection, embarrassment and annoyance, he realizes that his father is "afraid to die because of me. To leave me behind, still unregenerate." Writing one novel about a minister's family is asking for trouble; writing a second seems downright unrepentant, the kind of misjudgment that could land a reputable literary author in a Christian bookstore or with a cozy series on the BBC. But Robinson, who teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is unlikely to suffer either fate; her books are toxic to sentimentality. Even more than their stylistic beauty, what's miraculous about Gilead and Home is their explicit focus on spiritual affliction, discussed in the hard terms of Protestant theology. Robinson uses the words "grace," "salvation" and "prayer" frequently and without embarrassment and without drifting into the gassy lingo of ecumenical spirituality. Her characters cower in the shadow of perdition. Though as a teenager Jack seemed to have paid no attention to his father's sermons, now, amid the ruins of his adult life, he's hypnotized by a sense of his worthlessness even as he feels "a certain spiritual hunger." Why, he wonders, could he never be a part of this wonderful family? What has drawn him again and again to hurt them and himself? "I don't really know what to do with myself," he tells Glory. "I'm a scoundrel." As a disquisition on the agonies of family love and serial disappointment, Home is sometimes too illuminating to bear. During a long, candid conversation that serves as the crisis of the novel, Jack's father confesses, "So many times, over the years, I've tried not to love you so much. I never got anywhere with it, but I tried." And then he manages to ask, without rancor of any kind, "What I'd like to know, is why you didn't love us. That is what has always mystified me." Although there's much sadness here, it's always cradled in Robinson's voice. "This life on earth is a strange business," she writes, but somehow that business sounds like a more familiar home in these discerning pages. 
Copyright 2008, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

"Remarkable . . . an even stronger accomplishment than Gilead."--Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books

"An exquisite, often ruefully funny meditation on redemption."--Megan O'Grady, Vogue

"An anguished pastoral, a tableau of decency and compassion that is also an angry and devastating indictment of moral cowardice and unrepentant, unacknowledged sin. . . . . Beautiful."--A. O. Scott, The New York Times Book Review

"Rich and resonant . . . Gilead and Home fit with and around each other perfectly, each complete on its own, yet enriching and enlivening the other. But both are books of such beauty and power."--Emily Barton, Los Angeles Times

"Marilynne Robinson is so powerful a writer that she can reshape how we read."--Mark Athitakis, Chicago Sun-Times

"Home begins simply, eschewing obvious verbal fineness, and slowly grows in luxury--its last fifty pages are magnificently moving. . . . Powerful."--James Wood, The New Yorker

"When Marilynne Robinson writes a new book, it’s an event."--Pat MacEnulty, Charlotte Observer

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"Home to stay, Glory! Yes!" her father said, and her heart sank. He attempted a twinkle of joy at this thought, but his eyes were damp with commiseration. "To stay for a while this time!" he amended, and took her bag from her, first shifting his cane to his weaker hand. Dear God, she thought, dear God in heaven. So began and ended all her prayers these days, which were really cries of amazement. How could her father be so frail? And how could he be so recklessly intent on satisfying his notions of gentlemanliness, hanging his cane on the railing of the stairs so he could, dear God, carry her bag up to her room? But he did it, and then he stood by the door, collecting himself.

"This is the nicest room. According to Mrs. Blank." He indicated the windows. "Cross ventilation. I don’t know. They all seem nice to me." He laughed. "Well, it’s a good house." The house embodied for him the general blessedness of his life, which was manifest, really indisputable. And which he never failed to acknowledge, especially when it stood over against particular sorrow. Even more frequently after their mother died he spoke of the house as if it were an old wife, beautiful for every comfort it had offered, every grace, through all the long years. It was a beauty that would not be apparent to every eye. It was too tall for the neighborhood, with a flat face and a flattened roof and peaked brows over the windows. "Italianate," her father said, but that was a guess, or a rationalization. In any case, it managed to look both austere and pretentious despite the porch her father had had built on the front of it to accommodate the local taste for socializing in the hot summer evenings, and which had become overgrown by an immense bramble of trumpet vines. It was a good house, her father said, meaning that it had a gracious heart however awkward its appearance. And now the gardens and the shrubbery were disheveled, as he must have known, though he rarely ventured beyond the porch.

Not that they had been especially presentable even while the house was in its prime. Hide-and-seek had seen to that, and croquet and badminton and baseball. "Such times you had!" her father said, as if the present slight desolation were confetti and candy wrappers left after the passing of some glorious parade. And there was the oak tree in front of the house, much older than the neighborhood or the town, which made rubble of the pavement at its foot and flung its imponderable branches out over the road and across the yard, branches whose girths were greater than the trunk of any ordinary tree. There was a torsion in its body that made it look like a giant dervish to them. Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread its arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa. There had once been four swings suspended from those branches, announcing to the world the fruitfulness of their household. The oak tree flourished still, and of course there had been and there were the apple and cherry and apricot trees, the lilacs and trumpet vines and the day lilies. A few of her mother’s irises managed to bloom. At Easter she and her sisters could still bring in armfuls of flowers, and their father’s eyes would glitter with tears and he would say, "Ah yes, yes," as if they had brought some memento, these flowers only a pleasant reminder of flowers.

Why should this staunch and upright house seem to her so abandoned? So heartbroken? The eye of the beholder, she thought. Still, seven of her father’s children came home as often as they could manage to, and telephoned, and sent notes and gifts and crates of grapefruit. Their own children, from the time they could grasp a crayon and scrawl, were taught to remember Grandpa, then Great-grandpa. Parishioners and their children and grandchildren looked in on her father with a faithfulness that would have taxed his strength if the new minister had not hinted at the problem. And there was Ames, her father’s alter ego, in whom he had confided so long and so utterly that he was a second father to them all, not least in the fact of knowing more about them than was entirely consistent with their comfort. Sometimes they made their father promise not to tell anyone, by which he knew they meant Reverend Ames, since he was far too discreet to repeat any confidence, except in the confessional of Ames’s stark bachelor kitchen, where, they suspected, such considerations were forgotten. And what was their father not to tell? How they informed on Jack, telling him what Jack had said, what Jack had done or seemed inclined to do.

"I have to know," their father said. "For his sake." So they told on their poor scoundrel brother, who knew it, and was irritated and darkly amused, and who kept them informed or misinformed and inspired urgent suspicions among them which they felt they had to pass on, whatever their misgivings, to spare their father having to deal with the sheriff again. They were not the kind of children to carry tales. They observed a strict code against it among themselves, in fact, and they made an exception of Jack only because they were afraid to do otherwise. "Will they put him in jail?" they asked one another miserably when the mayor’s son found his hunting rifle in their barn. If they had only known, they could have returned it and spared their father surprise and humiliation. At least with a little warning he could have composed himself, persuaded himself to feel something less provocative than pure alarm.

But no, they did not put him in jail. Jack, standing beside his father, made yet another apology and agreed to sweep the steps of the city hall every morning for a week. And he did leave the house early every morning. Leaves and maple wings accumulated at city hall until the week was over and the mayor swept them up. No. His father would always intercede for him. The fact that his father was his father usually made intercession unnecessary. And that boy could apologize as fluently as any of the rest of the Boughtons could say the Apostles’ Creed.

A decade of betrayals, minor and major, was made worse by awareness on every side that they were all constantly alert to transgression and its near occasion, and made worse still by the fact that Jack never repaid them in kind, though this may only have been because their own mischief was too minor to interest him. To say they shared a bad conscience about Jack to this day would be to overstate the matter a little. No doubt he had his own reasons for staying away all these years, refusing all contact with them. Assuming, please God, he was alive. It was easy to imagine in retrospect that Jack might have tired of it all, even though they knew he made a somber game of it. Sometimes he had seemed to wish he could simply trust a brother, a sister. They remembered that from time to time he had been almost candid, had spoken almost earnestly. Then he would laugh, but that might have been embarrassment.

They were attentive to their father all those years later, in part because they were mindful of his sorrow. And they were very kind to one another, and jovial, and fond of recalling good times and looking through old photographs so that their father would laugh and say, "Yes, yes, you were quite a handful." All this might have been truer because of bad conscience, or, if not that, of a grief that felt like guilt. Her good, kind, and jovial siblings were good, kind, and jovial consciously and visibly. Even as children they had been good in fact, but also in order to be seen as good. There was something disturbingly like hypocrisy about it all, though it was meant only to compensate for Jack, who was so conspicuously not good as to cast a shadow over their household. They were as happy as their father could wish, even happier. Such gaiety! And their father laughed at it all, danced with them to the Victrola, sang with them around the piano. Such a wonderful family they were! And Jack, if he was there at all, looked on and smiled and took no part in any of it.

Now, as adults, they were so careful to gather for holidays that Glory had not seen the house empty and quiet in years, since she was a girl. Even when the others had all gone off to school her mother was there, and her father was still vigorous enough to make a little noise in the house with coming and going, singing, grumbling. "I don’t know why he has to slam that door!" her mother would say, when he was off to tend to some pastoral business or to play checkers with Ames. He almost skipped down the steps. The matter of Jack and the girl and her baby stunned him, winded him, but he was still fairly robust, full of purpose. Then, after his frailty finally overwhelmed him, and after their mother died, there was still the throng of family, the bantering and bickering child cousins who distracted and disrupted adult conversation often enough to ward off inquiry into the specifics of her own situation. Still teaching, still engaged to be married, yes, long engagements are best. Twice the fiancé had actually come home with her, had shaken hands all around and smiled under their tactful scrutiny. He had been in their house. He could stay only briefly, but he had met her father, who claimed to like him well enough, and this had eased suspicions a little. Theirs and hers. Now here she was alone with poor old Papa, sad old Papa, upon whose shoulder much of Presbyterian Gilead above the age of twenty had at some time wept. No need to say anything, and no hope of concealing anything either.

The town seemed different to her, now that she had returned there to live. She was thoroughly used to Gilead as the subject and scene of nostalgic memory. How all the brothers and sisters except

Jack had loved to come home, and how ready they always were to leave again. How dear the old place and the old stories were to them, and how far abroad...

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MARILYNNE ROBINSON is the author of the novels Gilead, Housekeeping, and two books of nonfiction, Mother Country and The Death of Adam. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

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