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385 of 398 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 6, 2008
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."

My assessment:

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.
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134 of 141 people found the following review helpful
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.
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72 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2008 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.
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67 of 82 people found the following review helpful
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.
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58 of 72 people found the following review helpful
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.

Katie Cameron
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 4, 2008
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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2008
How Fiction Works
Marilynne Robinson's "Home" is an extraordinary novel, a great novel, in the tradition of Hawthorne and
Melville and Faulkner. It is a very different sort of novel, in fact one critic really just dismissed it, but it could and will stand with the work of these earlier writers. It is a study of those who have remained in or returned to small town America; namely the Boughton family, and to a lesser degree than in the earlier "Gilead" the Ames family. The novel takes place in the summer in Gilead in Iowa where the days unfold in the old Boughton house in a fifties world where church is at the heart of the matter, where one knows what the neighbors are up to, where the coffee comes from the pot on the stove and there are dumplings with the chicken dinner, where there are no blacks on the streets. Jack Boughton returns after a twenty years absence to the house where his sister Glory has come to take care of her father, the "old man," a minister, who has, like many approaching death, a lot he wishes to settle. Here in the old house, a wonderful house with garden, and barn, and great shade trees, and of course their memories of childhood, Jack and Glory and their father manage to get through the days that proceed one after another as though nothing has happened, as though nothing will. And yet the reader cannot rest. Little by little, here and there, secrets are revealed, bits of the past are brought forward, like so many doors opening a crack, then closing. I don't think I have ever read a novel in which so much is said but one feels so few words have been spoken, where so much heartbreak has been recorded in a strange sort of stillness. Robinson writes about familial love, forgiveness, betrayal, guilt, an awful kind of lifelong estrangement, and such loneliness and disappointment. She looks at the wounds, and in an odd way manages to create in the reader a sense of having been wounded too. But then at the very end of the novel Jack gone, his father a day or so from death, we are left with Glory, looking down the road into the dusk, still believing, as do we, that good may come. It is a novel that is totally original, with deep deep roots in the history of American literature.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2009
As most readers of this review will know, Home is Marilynne Robinson's second novel set in Gilead, Iowa, in 1956. The first novel, Gilead, tells the story of John Ames, an elderly minister dying of a heart condition who decides to write an account of his life and kin for his seven-year-old son, Robby. The entire book is his letter to Robby, written over the course of a summer. As Rev. Ames writes, his namesake, John Ames Boughton (Jack), returns to Gilead after leaving many years earlier amidst scandal. Jack is the son of Robert Boughton, Rev. Ames's lifelong friend and fellow Gilead minister.

While Gilead focuses on the Ames household, Home tells the story of the Boughton household. Rev. Boughton is a widower whose health is also declining. Glory, the youngest of his eight children, has just moved back home in the aftermath of a failed relationship. And Jack, his wayward son whom he has not seen in some 20 years, has come home troubled and looking for peace. The two novels unfold not in series but in parallel and offer many wonderful points of intersection. I loved both books.

Gilead is the story of a good man whose interior life shines through his long letter to his son. Rev. Ames is utterly real in his sorrows and failings, but also in his quiet strength, steadfastness, and confidence in the Lord. As a young man he lost his first wife and daughter during childbirth, then endured many lonely years as a widowed minister. His main comforts were his books, his friendship with Robert Boughton, the seeming immutability of Gilead itself, and most of all his sense of God's presence permeating all of life. Late in his life, Lila came to his church. Although half his age, she was already wearied and wisened by life; it is implied that she had a sad and broken past. Through Rev. Ames, she came to faith and was baptized. They eventually married, but because of his propriety as a minister and his respect for the difference in their ages it was she who proposed to him: "You ought to marry me."

Rev. Ames's long letter to Robby is in turns personal story, sensitive meditation, affectionate letter, and deep expression of concern for his family. He tells the stories of his grandfather and father, both ministers, but one a violent abolitionist and the other a pacifist. His feelings are palpable when he describes how fiercely he loves his life; when he wishes Robby knew him in his strength; when he tells Robby how much he means to him; when he describes the lonely years as a period for which he is grateful, but also a period which seems like "a long, bitter prayer that was answered finally;" when he wishes he had set more aside for Lila and Robby to live on after he is gone; and when he expresses both apprehensiveness that Jack may harm them and pastoral concern for Jack's troubled soul.

If Gilead is about a good man, Home is about a troubled man. The one man's goodness and the other man's troubled life seem in no way related to their given circumstances. Jack appears to have had every advantage. He was gifted with intelligence, good health, a large loving family, and a good upbringing. And yet he kept apart, incomprehensible, seemingly disdainful of those who loved him. He was a thief and vandal. He was profoundly cruel and unfeeling. Then he disappeared.

When Jack returns home he is humble but guarded. Bit by bit, he reconnects with his sister and tries to reconnect with his father. As it turns out, Glory is suffering through her own quiet misery. But she loves Jack, just as she always has, and reaches out to him. They pass the summer days caring for their father and making him as comfortable as possible, and attending to the humdrum things of life: cooking, eating meals together, cultivating the garden, doing the laundry, and chipping away at the dishevelment and disrepair that have overtaken the house and the old DeSoto. Bits and pieces of Jack's past surface: the prison time, the alcoholism, the woman he still cares for in St. Louis... In ways indirect and finally direct, he asks for Glory's help escaping from himself.

Home is a long, lovely, melancholic river. The characters are so human, the dialogue so real, you can feel the grace, yearning, and brokenness of their lives. The story asks but does not answer why some people ascend, but others descend. Why some find community, but others struggle to do so. Why some easily find purpose, but others are restless and adrift their whole lives. Why some are good, but others are irresistibly drawn to destructive behavior. Why all are broken, but only some rise out of their brokenness.

My favorite scene (described in both Gilead and Home) is a conversation that takes place on the Boughtons' front porch. Rev. Ames and Lila have dropped by to visit Rev. Boughton. Glory and Jack join them on the front porch. By this time in his life, Jack has given much earnest thought to his father's faith, a faith that he has never been able to make his own. He is troubled by the idea of predestination--that some people may be "intentionally and irretrievably consigned to perdition." And troubled personally that he himself might be "an instance of predestination, a sort of proof." So he asks Rev. Ames for his views on predestination. There follows a long and rather fruitless theological discussion between Jack, Rev. Ames, and Rev. Boughton. In the end, Jack apologizes for having gone on too long. He is about to leave and go help Glory in the kitchen. But Lila, who has been mostly silent up to this point, asks him to stay for a minute. Then, mustering herself, she says simply, "A person can change. Everything can change." There is a pause. Rev. Ames is moved by this glimpse into his wife's soul. And Jack responds gently, "Why thank you, Mrs. Ames. That's all I wanted to know."
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28 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2008
You will adore HOME. Fans of Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning novel GILEAD fell in love with her gentle minister, the Rev. John Ames, and the story he was creating for his son. Set in the 1950's, GILEAD is a love letter from the 77 year old Ames to his 7 year-old son. This luminous, tender book was completely outside the realm of what some might expect from a modern best-selling novel. Robinson shattered the mold with GILEAD.

In HOME, Robinson takes readers back once again to this quite Iowa town. It is still the 1950's. John Ames still has a bad heart. But he's alive and enjoying life with his young wife and child. HOME is not a sequel. It's more of a companion volume to GILEAD and while reading the first book first would certainly enhance the reader's appreciation for HOME, doing so is not essential.

HOME is a story about the best friend of John Ames, the Rev. Robert Boughton, and his family. John Ames is definitely part of the story but in a more peripheral sense. These two elderly ministers grew up together. They have argued scriptural fine points for the better part of a century. Rev. Boughton's health is failing now too, much faster that his friend's is declining.

Rev. Boughton's 38 year-old daughter Glory has come home to care for her father. Boughton has been a widower for 10 years. The Boughtons had seven children. Rev. Boughton's favorite child, Jack, is the black sheep of the family. He hasn't been home in 20 years. As the story opens they have just heard that Jack is coming home for a visit with his ailing father.

The prodigal son finally turns up. Jack is a man with a mysterious past. He is also one of the most compelling fictional characters this reviewer has encountered in years.

Robinson spins her magic as father, brother, and sister play out the drama of this homecoming. HOME is pure gold. Robinson writes with a warmth and assurance that will bring tears to your eyes. Will this one win another Pulitzer? It's good enough. Time will tell. HOME will resonate with readers who understand the joys and sorrows of being part of a family.
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