Gilead and Home have much in common, namely, the Boughton’s and the Ames’s and the shining star of radicalism: Gilead, Iowa. In Gilead readers were invited to read the memoirs and letters of 76 year old Rev. John Ames as he dies of angina pectoris, a failing heart, writing to his 6 year old son Robby (whose name we learn in Home). The reader becomes fully acquainted with the Boughtons in Gilead, particularly John Ames’s fabled namesake, John Ames “Jack” Boughton and his sister Glory. Home puts Jack and Glory to the foreground and leaves John Ames a shadowy figure. Robinson’s characters evoke a kind of gestural stroke like the paintings of Rembrandt, the interaction of the characters is greater than the sum of its parts. When it comes to the psychology of human interaction something very different from Gilead is given in Home, Robinson weds form and content in electing a unique third person POV. However, the POV in Home is not omniscient, but rather is cinematic. By not giving the us the privilege of knowing the intentions and thoughts of her characters, Robinson leaves us to grapple with the complexity of humanity found in the relationships of Jack and Glory. Following Jack or Glory around could have been interesting, but in Home Robinson gives reflections on the mystery of the family, and God’s providence in it. Where Gilead gave pastoral and theological reflection, Home explores familial and relational bonds.
Thematically there is perhaps one dominant motif, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jack certainly is the Prodigal who returns and Glory the elder brother, yet Robinson shows something much more profound and real than how that story is typically treated. There is much Scripture in Home, though not to the same degree as Gilead, however, what Robinson does in the final pages of Home is nothing less than a reflection on how wonderful the Lord is. Throughout the entire novel we follow Jack and Glory as they eke out their time in Gilead waiting and watching for some glimpse of grace. Reflection is too narrow, what Robinson gives us is a dramatization of wonderfulness of the Lord. If this sounds too pious and mawkish for a Pulitzer prize winner, one must read it for themself to test her maxim “if you can pull it off, you can do it”. This kind of description admittedly makes the book sound trite and pious. Perhaps, that it is why Robinson did not just tell us the Lord is wonderful, but showed us.
In the publisher’s write up of Home, they call it Robinson’s “best work”. I agree. I think that Robinson has demonstrated her prowess as an author in Home that her other work (Housekeeping and Gilead) affirms but in Home her writing is rich with complexity, artistry, and most of all grace.