Friday, April 24, 2009

"it's a powerful thing, family."

I have loved reading each of Marilynne Robinson's books, but this week I'm contemplating why her latest novel, Home, is by far my favorite.

There are the obvious reasons ... the narrator is female, one with whom I more comfortably identify than with Gilead's John Ames. And Housekeeping, while containing some of the most achingly lovely descriptions I've ever come across in literature, is just too dark for me.

But there's something deeper there, below the first impressions. I think at my very core I resonate with Home because it is a book about family.

As the story unfolds through Glory Boughton's eyes, I am given the rare gift of peering in on this woman's most private possession: the emotional inner-workings of her family. At times I feel the discomfort of an outsider, being made privy that that which is none of my business. And I wonder it if this is a gift I really want.

But I can't stop reading, partly because it is a story I want to know the end of, but mostly because as a human being I am swept up in my own story of family, and I identify all too well with many of the thoughts and emotions taking place within these pages.

This story gets at what is closest to the heart of all humans. To be in family is to be vulnerable. Aren't family relationships the most tenuous of all relationships? There is so much power there. A word can make or break them at any time. They can bring the most joy or the most pain to a person's life. A conversation about one's own family evokes feelings of enthusiasm or pain or anger, but rarely indifference.

As we live and work and play we are each living out our own version of the Boughton's saga - whether we interact with members of our family on a daily basis or never speak to them. Our own family's history, its patterns and wounds and victories and secrets often run too deep to be easily explicable to outsiders but they are part of the fiber of who we are - no matter how much we may try to run from it.

To really know another is to see him in the context of his family story. This is why Home is the most intimate of novels. And I think why it is my favorite.


Jon Furst said...

You make me want to give ol' Marilynne a chance again.

I'm glad that you are contributing Julie. It'll bring some balance to some boys who are quickly growing crusty.

P.D. said...

Jon: watch that language. "give ol' Marylinne a chance again" What do you suppose that means?

"quickly growing crusty" hmm? I guess we should revisit Chris Little's missiology or CIU standards :)

Julie: glad you liked it. I do think this is one of her greatest works. In some ways I feel like its a testimony to her ability to see and perceive human relationships as much as her ability to write about it.