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The prodigal son comes home 4.5 stars,
This review is from: Home (Hardcover)
'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.'
Marilynne Robinson's Home opens with retired minister Robert Broughton's youngest daughter reluctantly returning to her father's house, her childhood home - essentially to nurse him as he dies. She is one of eight children, the only one free to take care of him. She has brought her own secrets back to her house - her life has not followed the conventions of 1950s small town America. Her brother Jack, the 'ne'er do well' of the family, the son most beloved of the father, writes to say that he will be coming home after twenty years.
The prodigal returns with a hangover but seeks to make amends for the disgrace he brought to the family as a youngster. We gradually learn of his wrongdoings as a boy and snippets of his life since. Though he is not religious he turns to John Ames, also a minister and Robert Broughton's life long friend - and for whom Jack was named - for a blessing and redemption. Jack's life is clearly still complicated - there is a woman he writes to but something has gone wrong. As readers we understand, perhaps, more about his relationship with Della and the secret involved there than his family living in the same house are able to pick up.
Everything slows down in the middle of the novel as Jack looks for work, fixes the De Soto in the garage, works in the garden and avoids booze. Glory and Jack start to grow close though their shared work about the house and garden, through small kindnesses to each other and in sharing the care of their father. In a family where words and letters and books have always been important they do not talk much; communication is indirect and politeness and well-meaning gets in the way. Jack and Glory do tell each other more than either can tell their father.
The novel is strong on time and place. Jack has been living in St Louis and sympathises with the 'coloured' and in 1957 what appears to be the incipient civil rights movement. Gilead is small town America where Jack's disgrace was visited on the whole family. There is genteel poverty and there is the sense of life revolving around the church and home. As Robert Broughton comes to the end of his life it is Jack's immortal soul he is concerned for.
Though very different in style Home reminded me of Anne Enright's The Gathering where two siblings of a large family have a special bond, where the sister longs for her 'damaged' brother to come right, where there is the sadness of unrealised potential.
This novel stands alone but is a companion piece to Gilead, which was written from the point of view of letters from elderly John Ames to his six year old son, and covers much of the same period of time. We see now how John Ames and his namesake have misunderstood each other. I think the third person narrative style in Home works well. Though also a novel about fathers and sons Glory provides another point of view, another player in the family dynamics. Robert Broughton longs to forgive his son but can't quite manage to do it. Glory forgives him quickly and manages to wish more for him than she expects for herself.
I loved Housekeeping, was not fully enamoured of Gilead when it came out but will return to it after reading Home, which I thought was beautifully written and realised, though very very sad.