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Home: A Novel Hardcover

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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"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 they had scattered. The past was a very fine thing, in its place. But her returning now, to ...
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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 Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002N2XHU8
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (370 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,048,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Kanigan VINE VOICE on September 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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...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.
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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.
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