This story is set in the 1950's in a small rural town in Iowa (Gilead). Robert Boughton, a retired and aging minister, is in poor health. Glory Boughton, 38, his youngest daughter, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father and to regroup after the failure of a longstanding relationship and the evaporation of her dreams of home, marriage and children.
"I am 38 years old, she would say to herself as she tidied up after supper. I have a master's degree. I taught high school English for 13 years. I was a good teacher. What have I done with my life? What has become of it? It is as if I had a dream of adult life and woke up from it, still here in my parents' house."
Jack Broughton, his father's most beloved son, also returns home after a twenty-year disappearance - looking for peace, forgiveness, a refuge and reconciliation - with his Father, his family and a community which he ran from after earning a reputation as a thief and a scoundrel.
"Jack was exceptional in every way he could be, including of course, truancy and misfeasance."
Glory and Jack unravel their personal histories slowly - one slight pull at a time on a large ball of string. The simplicity of the story is tied with tension, heartwarming and difficult memories, conflicted emotions and most of all - with love - among family members and Father to son. Glory and Jack slowly build a relationship while caring for their Father.
The story is anchored around Jack and his relationship with his Father - a kind, graceful, forgiving man - who is elated to have his son home to settle his longstanding worries and concerns - yet other concerns have now surfaced - including how to deal with Jack's restlessness, his troubling "behaviors" - and finally his concern over Jack leaving again and being out of reach of help.
"I thanked God for him every day of his life, no matter how much grief, how much sorrow - and at the end of it all there is only more grief, more sorrow, and his life will go on that way, no help for it now. You see something beautiful in a child, and you almost live for it, you feel as though you would die for it, but it isn't yours to keep or protect. And if the child becomes a man who has no respect for himself, it's just destroyed till you can hardly remember what it was - it's like watching a child die in your arms. (He looked at Jack.) Which I have done."
1) One of the best books I have read. A sad but hauntingly beautiful book (or perhaps better described as a work of art) by a writer who is in a professional class of her own. I couldn't put it down.
2) Beautiful, crystal clear images and plain spoken prose.
"And there was an 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 girth 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."
3) Not for everyone. Slow Pace. Thin Plot. Deep Character insights.
If you are looking for in-your-face suspense thriller, murder mysteries, car crashes, this book won't be for you. This is quiet, gentle, artful prose that carries your interest like a gentle breeze on a warm summer day. You can feel your heart beat slow as you turn the pages - yet she pulls you along a slow moving river, wanting to see what's around the next bend - and often times it is a peek into what the characters think and feel.
4) Feels like the application of a soothing balm over a sore that won't heal.
Novel highlights the imperfections of man. The beauty, strength and pain of unconditional love. The binds of family and friends. How belief and doubt affect our daily lives. How leading the simplest life can be touched by grace, wonder and heart ache.
This is a genius work by a master craftsperson. I was sorry for the story to come to an end.
How simple it seems, that story of the Prodigal Son! The wanderer returns; his joyful father falls on his shoulder and orders the fatted calf to be killed; the stay-at-home sibling is resentful for a while, but presumably learns to deal with it. For the story stops there. There is no tomorrow. The Bible doesn't ask what happens in the weeks and months after that. Is the family happily reunited? Does the Prodigal never yearn to be off again? Where does life go from here? These are some of the many questions posed by Marilynne Robinson in her latest novel, HOME, a sister work to her Pulitzer Prize-winning GILEAD.
HOME is not a sequel to GILEAD, but a parallel novel, taking place in the same town (Gilead, Iowa), at exactly the same time (1956), and involving many of the same characters. Readers of the earlier novel will recall that the town has two elderly preachers, John Ames and Robert Boughton, close friends since childhood. In HOME, the action shifts from Ames' house to that of Boughton, a wonderful old man magnificently characterized through his way of talking, warmly benevolent with unexpected edges of granite. At the start of the book, his youngest daughter Glory, now 38, returns home to care for her father; she appears to be in retreat from problems of her own, but their nature only gradually becomes clear. A little later, Jack Boughton, the black sheep of the family, arrives after an absence of twenty years. Jack appears in GILEAD also; some of the information from the earlier book is revealed immediately, but we learn much more about his tormented life as the book goes on. One essential revelation from GILEAD is postponed to the very last pages of HOME, so that readers who come to this book first may find the ending even more moving. For Jack, with his mixture of outward charm and inner despair, becomes a character to care for. We follow his spiritual trajectory over the next few months first with hope, then with joy, then with sympathy. This is a sad book, but by no means a bleak one.
Are there really two novels to be found in Gilead in 1956? Not quite; more like one and three-quarters. But this second book, though perhaps overlong, is entirely absorbing in its own right, and surprisingly different from its predecessor. GILEAD was a vertical book, having to do with four generations of fathers and sons, and with man's relationship to God; HOME is a horizontal one, focusing on the relationship between brother and sister, and the accumulation of memories, custom, and duties that make a home a home, whether a solace or a burden. GILEAD was broad in scope, reaching back to the Civil War and denying the apparent isolation of its characters in place and time; HOME turns inward, presenting the outside world merely as something lurking on the periphery. I was going to say that while GILEAD is primarily a religious work, HOME is a secular one, but that is not quite true; HOME does not quite have the luminous spirituality of GILEAD, yet GILEAD also seems the more down-to-earth of the two books. This reduction in range made me question giving HOME its fifth star -- and yet why not, since it pales only by comparison with GILEAD, which was a six-, seven-, or ten-star book if there ever was one?
Marilynne Robinson continues to write shining prose that compels you to keep reading, common sense expressed with scriptural overtones, as in this passage where John Ames contemplates how his friend Reverend Boughton must feel in his retirement: "The Sunday-school children were marrying, and the married couples had settled into difficult, ordinary life, and the grave old men and women who had taught the Sunday-school children about bands of angels and flying chariots were themselves crossing over Jordan one by one." If this seems as beautiful to you as it does to me, you will enjoy this moving and deeply understanding novel.
on September 17, 2008
...to Gilead as one could hope for. And hope, it seems to me - hope realized, hope deferred, hope in spite of reality - is at the core of this book. I saw this book at an airport bookstore and as soon as I saw that it returned to Gilead (didn't even finish reading the jacket), I purchased it. However, it took me some time to open it, because frankly I was afraid that it might not be as good as Gilead, that something from the perfection of that book might be ruined in the attempt to return there.
I needn't have worried, nor should you, if you read and loved Gilead. The perfect ambiguity of Gilead's ending is preserved, and we learn more about all the characters that were most real to me - Robert, Glory, and Jack. We meet characters only alluded to previously, and what a wonder they are! As others have noted, it is a slow, deliberate novel - though certainly wordier and less spare than Gilead. But it is a slow, deliberate story, and one to take your time with.
And hope - we always return to it. What hope and wonder are displayed in this little book, even in the midst of alcoholism, depression, small-town drama, racial conflicts, dementia. Don't be confused, however, but it's not romantic, sentimental and syrupy hope. It is deeply, profoundly, faithful hope - more like what John Ames describes at the end of Gilead: "...whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more." A good ending can make a novel, and this one casts a wonderful vision.
on October 27, 2008
I am not going to repeat the plot, since many other reviewers have done so very competently. First let me say I am a Robinson fan. I think Gilead is one of the top ten books I have ever read. So imagine my disappointment when I finally found myself on the last page of Home, and closed the book with utter relief.
I believe that in Home, Robinson lost the writer's discipline she exercised so marvelously in Gilead. The characters never come to life. Jack is a kind of under-stated caricature of the "black-sheep" trying to redeem himself. I did not find him believable. He seemed to be another Ames/Boughten lightly clothed in the garb of a sinner. He was too decent, apologetic, and insightful to be any kind of black-sheep I have ever met. Glory is a caricature of the left-behind woman. She is allegedly intelligent and educated, and yearns for a different life, but for some reason is paralyzed and incapacitated. Both Jack and Glory seem almost embalmed in amber - but it is never clear why, and this is why the characters do not come alive for me. (Predestination?)
Beyond character development, there is dialogue, scene, and plot. On the matter of the first, the dialogue is fantastically tedious. Glory cries. Jack says he is sorry ad nauseum. On scene, there is just about one scene in the entire book. It is more like a play than a novel. The characters migrate from kitchen to bed to barn to living room, over and over again, with almost nothing changing each time the scene is revisited. Jack says something; it bothers his father; Jack apologizes; Glory weeps. Good grief. On plot, the prodigal son arrives sinful, he continues to sin, and he leaves a sinner. The father loves the son at the beginning, at the middle, and then loses his faculties so .. it is unclear. Glory forgives in the first part of the book, and then forgives and forgives and forgives. Let's have a blow up!!! The lack of confrontation and crisis left this book going absolutely nowhere. The potential (albeit at the end of the book) for something great to take place, when Jack's African American wife arrives, is totally forfeited and the plot collapses before it even begins.
My feeling throughout this book was that Robinson was not ready to write her next book, and wrote this painfully during some terrible attack of writer's block. Anyone who could write Gilead will live to write another great novel. I await it, with all the eagerness I awaited Home.
on November 29, 2008
I absolutely adored Robinson's previous novel, Gilead -- thoughtful, thought-provoking, slow moving in a wonderful, wistful, fulfilling way. Home, which is set at the same time and with the same characters as Gilead, just told from a different perspective, is a disappointment. The main character, Glory, can't hold a candle to the narrator of Gilead, John Ames. Robinson seems to have lost her voice with this novel, or maybe she couldn't find a voice for Glory, who seems not well defined and thus not very interesting. Jack is by far the most interesting character, but he was more frustrating than sympathetic. The slow pace and thin plot, which worked wonderfully in Gilead and actually made that book the excellent piece of literature that it is, are a hinderance to this book. The pacing feels forced and some of the scenes are excruciating with their simplistic dialogue. Read Gilead and savor that -- but Home can be skipped.
on November 25, 2014
What a gem Marilynne Robinson is. The only way this novel pales slightly is if it's compared to Robinson's recent "Lila," which is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for any author. That novel might have earned six stars if they were available.
But "Home" is a solid five stars compared to virtually every other recent novel I've read recently. It ranks slightly better than Gilead (Robinson's other novel in this group), since "Home"'s family story, with its quiet but pronounced tension, is more compelling and interesting to me.
I strongly recommend all three novels in this series set in Gilead, Iowa, but I recommend reading them in this order, even though it is slightly out of plot chronology: "Gilead," "Home," then "Lila." All three stand perfectly well on their own, but for the full impact of Robinson's prodigious talent, all three need to be savored. This is modern literary fiction at its best, perfectly competent in craft with a razor-honed focus on character nuance over lurid plot drama. I cannot think of any single author responsible for three such fine novels—unless you go back to the classics of the 20s and 30s from writers like Willa Cather, Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe.
on May 31, 2015
Disappointed, because I'm a fan of Marilynne Robinson. At this point I have read Housekeeping and Gilead. Until Home, I've really enjoyed her writing. Home is about friends in the same town as the Gilead book. But Gilead has lots of interesting little stories in it. Home shows some character depth in Jack and the uncomfortableness of family that has not kept in touch for years and don't have the same spiritual beliefs or values. In my opinion the book was more about Jack than Glory, and I would have like to know more about Glory. Basically most of the book is Glory being worried that Jack is going to leave home again and then he does. It's the same situations and dynamic between Glory, Jack and their father on every page, which made it really boring. Nothing really interesting happens. Ending wasn't enough to make it worth the read. This book should get one star, but gave it two because I like the other two books. Didn't keep me from reading Lila next. Read Lila in under a week (because it kept my interest), while it took me over six weeks to get through Home.
on August 14, 2009
The characters are so well drawn:
The Reverend Boughton: a frail, patriarchal, prayerful old widower; devout, meaning to live and love like a Christian (though he shows no Christian concern for the black civil rights movement). Forgiving, of course, is not forgetting.
His daughter Glory: his 38 year old daughter and the youngest of his eight children, who, several months before the book opens, has come home - the old home which has never changed - to Gilead (Iowa) to look after him in his last days. Her life has been unfulfilled, and, though she loves him and does her best to see he is not upset, it is not fulfilled by her coming to look after him now.
His son Jack, a fascinating character: the black sheep ; had felt an outsider in the family ever since childhood; his delinquency impulsive rather than wicked; ever polite; as a child always ready to apologize for his misdeeds but always indulging in new ones; had fathered an illegitimate child; had then disappeared for twenty years, to the grief of his father who never failed to love him or to worry about his soul. Now the Prodigal Son suddenly returns, and the old father, always ready to forgive, shows more joy for the stray sheep that has returned than for the Martha-like devotion of his daughter. (The book abounds in biblical echoes.) He asks no questions of what Jack has been up to these twenty years (but imagines the worst), and Glory dares not ask either. And has he come back, battered by the storms of his life, to seek a refuge? Or out of nostalgia for the childhood home? Or trying to make reparation? Or out of concern for his old father? Or seeking forgiveness?
From childhood onwards Glory has always looked for Jack's approval. He had casually patted her on the head, no more. Now he is polite to her, but she feels no warmth; initially she resents the way he has `taken over the house', feels taken for granted by her father, her life more unfulfilled than ever. But then the relationship between her and Jack becomes deeper, more intimate, if edgy at first: both try elaborately not to touch on raw places, but both unintentionally (or with subconscious intention?) fail in this: even a smile or a pause are taken by the other as unspoken comments. But then slowly, slowly, the intimacy between brother and sister deepens, becomes warmer. Jack comes to trust her - not wholly, but more than he trusts anyone else; and she feels rewarded by that. They dare gradually to reveal to each other something of what they have suffered, of what they have done and of what they have had done to them. But there are still things neither of them will talk about, and the reader will only ever have intimations, but no precise details, about them.
Both Glory and her father are terrified - Glory at first as much on her father's behalf as on her own - that if they upset Jack, he will disappear again; and if he is out the house for a few hours, they begin to worry.
Jack, always doubting his welcome despite the reassurances from his father and his sister, knows that all their worries mean that they have never forgotten earlier escapades; and the people of Gilead don't seem to have forgotten either - especially not the Reverend Ames, the other old clergyman in the village, a friend of the Reverend Boughton and a sterner version of him.
As it is, Jack feels the shame of what he has done in the past, which all the forgiveness of his father and the assurances of his sister cannot remove - a shame which makes it so hard for him to stay in Gilead. In any case, the father's forgiveness is not as straightforward as it appears: it takes several forms: blaming himself for having in some way failed his son; clearly troubled in his soul about the sins that Jack might have committed during his long absence; praying for his salvation; in the end losing the strength to conceal his hurt - these are not so much balm as pain for Jack.
The whole book crackles with tension. Always one fears that something terrible will happen. It is full of grief and suffering, but also suffused with love and with loving concern; and it is profound, subtle, and infinitely moving.
I was excited to see that this book had been released since I loved GILEAD so much. While I enjoyed HOME, I probably did not like it as much as it's predecessor.
Both books are very similar in tone and content (not surprising since they are parallel pieces to each other), but I found HOME to move at a much more slower pace then GILEAD and that's saying something considering how slowly placed GILEAD is. It took me several days to complete this book. That's not to say it's boring. It's not. It's just that I think there is a bit too much repetitiveness.
Still, I recommend HOME to anyone who loved GILEAD. Both books compliment each other very well. They are not plot driven stories, but beautifully written books about people.
on March 29, 2015
I normally believe 1 stars should be reserved for books that are badly written but I'll make an exception for Home. Though the writing itself is fine, it is the most monumentally boring, repetitive and pointless novel I have ever had the misfortune to (try to) read. Had I not actually held it in my hands I would have refused to believe such drivel could actually find a publisher. I began skimming after the first 20 pages - NOT a good sign in a 300+ pages book!
The book is told from the PoV of the embittered Glory, despite which we never learn much about her. First she, then her ne'er-do-well brother Jack go to live with their ailing father. Jack stands around looking remote and saying he's worthless. His father dotes upon him. Glory cooks, cries and makes coffee. (So thoroughly identified with cooking is Glory that when she awakes one night, she makes pancakes and coffee and expects both men to eat them. This is not considered weird). Repeat, again and again, for 300 pages. Around the middle of the book vague references are made to 'events in Montgomery' which seem to interest Jack though he doesn't say why (thank goodness for Wikipedia, which tells me this is presumably referring to Rosa Parks. Robinson certainly couldn't be bothered explaining it). He asks how the USA can consider itself Christian when it treats blacks the way it does. Good question! I actually tuned back into the novel for a while, but of course Robinson doesn't pursue this topic at all because that would have made the story interesting. The whole issue is just dropped in favor of looking remote and more cups of coffee. At the end Jack receives word that his wife is coming to visit and scarpers. The father dies and leaves his house to Glory, who prepares to spend the rest of her life in a house and town she detests. Jack's wife arrives and turns out to be black. I guess this was intended to make all the preceding story meaningful in some way but since Robinson had refused to actually explore the issue of interracial relations it just looked pretentious.
Thank goodness I borrowed this from the library; had I paid money for it I would be furious. A truly ruthless editor could probably craft a reasonable short story out of this mess; there still wouldn't be a plot but at least it would capture a mood and spare readers the tedium of reading literally the same sentences over and over.