Home by Marilynne Robinson is a sort of companion novel to her marvelous Gilead (which I reviewed here). Home focuses almost entirely on the Boughton family, who readers of Gilead will remember as the family of John Ames’s best friend Robert and his rebellious son Jack.
Although Home is written in the third person, we mostly see events through the eyes of Glory, Boughton’s 38-year-old daughter who has come home to care for her father. Glory is a dutiful and devout woman who is recovering from her own recent heartbreak. And, much like John Ames, she has been a bystander to many of Jack’s past misdeeds, some major and some minor, and she’s not sure how to feel about his return and the effect it will have on her father.
One of the things I love about Robinson’s writing, both here and in Gilead, is how she so clearly expresses her characters’ thoughts and how real and honest those thoughts seem, even when the characters seem incapable of being honest with God or with themselves. Here, for example, is Glory on prayer:
Her father told his children to pray for patience, for courage, for kindness, for clarity, for trust, for gratitude. Those prayers will be answered, he said. Others may not be. The Lord knows your needs. So she prayed, Lord, give me patience. She knew that was not an honest prayer, and she did not linger over it. The right prayer would have been, Lord, my brother treats me like a hostile stranger, my father seems to have put me aside, I feel I have no place here in what I thought would be my refuge, I am miserable and bitter at heart, and old fears are rising up in me so that everything I do makes everything worse. But it cost her tears to think that her situation might actually be that desolate, so she prayed again for patience, for tact, for understanding—for every virtue that might keep her safe from conflicts that would be sure to leave her wounded, every virtue that might at least help her preserve an appearance of dignity, for heaven’s sake.
Robinson beautifully articulates how people think about God and about each other. And she does so without seeming to judge. Yes, her characters are flawed, some of them deeply so, and those flaws have led them to wound their loved ones in ways that seem beyond healing, but Robinson just tells their story. She doesn’t villify anyone. Her readers might take a strong dislike to one character or another, but I don’t think Robinson forces any of her characters into the saint or villian box.
I’m sure many people are wondering how this book compares to Gilead, or whether this book can stand alone. It’s hard for me to say. Gilead was a revelation to me; I can only think of a few books that moved me so deeply. I didn’t have that reaction to Home, but I suspect that was partly because I was not encountering Robinson’s work for the first time. I did find it much easier to relate to Glory than to John Ames, but that doesn’t necessarily make for a better book—it may, however, make Home an easier path for some readers to take into Robinson’s world.
Home can work on its own, I think, although it would be an entirely different experience for those who haven’t read Gilead. Having grown to love John Ames, I’m not crazy about people basing their opinion of him on this book alone. The Boughtons base their opinions on his actions and his words, but he shares his thoughts in Gilead. Which portrait is more accurate? Or are both equally true and untrue? Either book can stand alone as a fine reading experience, but together, they make for an especially rich picture of how we understand and misunderstand those around us. My advice: read ’em both.