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October 30, 2008

Home at last

Home Last week on a roadtrip with my family, I finally had a chance to read Marilynn Robinson's new novel, Home. If you've read her previous novel, Gilead, you'll want to go back and read it again after finishing Home.

Gilead was written from the perspective of Reverend Ames, who has a key conversation with Jack, the black sheep son of his best friend Reverend Boughton, toward the end of that book. Ames is only a peripheral figure in Home, but the stories overlap enough that, if you're like me, you'll be anxious to go back and remind yourself what exactly Ames was thinking during this or that conversation.

Reading Gilead before picking up Home will also give you some valuable insight into the big secret that Jack alludes to throughout Home, but which isn't revealed until the final scenes of the book. It's the same secret that changed Ames' opinion of Jack at the end of Gilead, so if you've already read that book, many of the conversations and hints in Home will make sense to you immediately.

Of course, Home is a great read. Robinson is a wonderful storyteller. But she also incorporates a fair amount of spiritual content into Home. Take this scene, for example. Jack, the prodigal, struggling with his propensity to disappoint others, asks Ames about predestination.

"Let me put it this way.  Do you think some people are intentionally and irretrievably consigned to perdition?"

"I'm afraid that is the most difficult aspect of the question."

Jack laughed. "People must ask you about this all the time."

"Yes, they do."

"And you must have some way of responding."

"I tell them there are certain attributes our faith assigns to God--omniscience, omnipotence, justice, and grace. We human beings have such a slight acquaintance with power and knowledge, so little conception of justice, and so slight a capacity for grace, that the workings of these great attributes together is a mystery we cannot hope to penetrate."

I never thought I'd be contemplating the mysteries of predestination in a novel, but there you have it.  Robinson manages to weave these conversations into the story so easily that they never come across as contrived or simplistic.  They are simply the very real and honest inquiries, struggles even, of a person who wants to believe but thinks God is somehow beyond him--and the musings of his elders about whether he might not be right about the seemingly unbreachable gap between himself and faith.

(Image © Farar, Straus, and Giroux)

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Mary DeMuth

I loved Gilead. Such breathtaking, simple prose. I need to devour it again. Home is on my TBR list and can't wait to read it. Thanks for whetting my appetite.

Gina Dalfonzo

I just finished "Home" too. Now I need to dig "Gilead" out and give it a re-read. :-) There's so much I've forgotten.

I loved "Gilead" mainly because I loved Ames so much, and it was startling to see him from a different point of view here. Not that I think Jack's point of view is more accurate, but it is very different. I've seen people resent goodness before, and it was hard to understand. Jack doesn't quite go as far as resenting it, but he finds it very difficult to relate to -- and to be fair, Ames finds him very hard to relate to as well. Interesting. I think that's why I like "Gilead" the better of the two. I like to be able to see inside a man's mind and understand why he makes the mistakes he makes, and of course Jack can't do that.

Sorry, I'm rambling. Anyway, they're both very good reads and highly recommended.


Gina wrote: "I like to be able to see inside a man's mind and understand why he makes the mistakes he makes".

Boy, would I ever love to take *that* off-topic...

Gina Dalfonzo

How far off-topic were you planning to go? :-)


Well, I haven't read either of Marilynn Robinson's novels, since reading anything that looks even tangentially like "chick lit" could damage my ability to participate in Man Post events. (Sorry, Kristine, but I gotta hang with my man Allen.) At best I could riff off Kristine's idea that sometimes our best insights into theological ideas come from fiction rather than nonfiction, and that fiction that's enjoyable is one of the best ways to learn and to ponder the deepest truths.

But mostly I'm thinking about my own mistakes, and how much I need someone to understand them and lovingly correct them (both for my future behavior, and for the consequences of my past behavior). Thank God I have God.

I also think how willing I am to believe I can see the errors of those around me - and how blind I am to my own, at least until too late.

I've only seen bits and pieces of "Stranger Than Fiction", the Will Farrell / Emma Thompson movie where author and protagonist meet in real life. It makes me grateful that I can talk with my own Author, and that He's not some chain-smoking neurotic, selfish and fallible like a Greek "god".

And I wish I could see inside my own mind and understand why I make the particular mistakes I make. God is certainly shielding me from a lot by refusing to fulfill that desire.

And since it's Friday I could try to razz you, Gina, about female-to-male and/or editor-to-writer telepathy. But I'm not feeling up to taking risks with words right now, so you'll just have to supply your own humor; sorry.

And also sorry for post-hijacking, but when it comes to these books I, uh, don't know Jack.

Gina Dalfonzo

Good thoughts, LeeQuod, and certainly relevant.

And don't be scared of Robinson's books; they're not even remotely close to chick lit. I promise. ("Gilead" is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and deservedly so.) You may proceed, should you so desire, with masculinity undiminished.

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