• strict warning: Declaration of FeedsImporter::copy() should be compatible with FeedsConfigurable::copy(FeedsConfigurable $configurable) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/includes/FeedsImporter.inc on line 94.
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  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsUserProcessor::map() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::map($source_item, $target_item = NULL) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsUserProcessor.inc on line 195.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
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  • You must include at least one positive keyword with 3 characters or more.
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  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 82.
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  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
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  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_argument::init() should be compatible with views_handler::init(&$view, $options) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_argument.inc on line 745.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_argument_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_argument.inc on line 770.

Home by Marilynne Robinson


Home is, in a sense, Marilynne Robinson’s companion to Gilead, which was published in 2004 to a good deal of critical attention and a couple of prestigious literary prizes. It concerns the same community in Iowa and the same people, but while Gilead focuses on John Ames, his much younger wife and their small son, in Home, Robinson turns her attention to Ames’ friend and fellow minister, Robert Boughton and his family, especially his troubled son Jack and Jack’s youngest sister, Glory. It is not necessary to read Gilead in order to appreciate Home, but I think they work so well together that it is a shame not to.
Marilynne Robinson knows her Bible and writes like a poet and the combination is absolutely ravishing. Having said that, if someone were to ask me what the book is about, I would have to say that it is about all the times you wish you’d kept your counsel. And all the times you wish you hadn’t.
There is a lot of history for the characters, but not a lot of plot, so anyone who wants a car-chase of a novel should look elsewhere. The principal characters in Home spend their time tip-toeing round each other unable to do right for doing wrong. We get their histories, hint by hint;  Marilynne Robinson knows that the best way to get the reader hooked is by not giving away too much, too soon.
The novel is set in the 1950s, in a community where television is only just beginning to challenge the dominance of radio and the printed word and where the struggles of the civil rights movement barely impinge, though it has a presence as does the inequality that gave rise to it. Gilead is not without its dark side, but its citizens are generally cheerful, wholesome and family-oriented. The church plays a major role in their daily lives, but their Christianity is not a harsh, ascetic faith; there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in simple pleasures such as gardening, baseball, and reading the newspaper. There is also a strong focus on food, as one would expect from a narrative concerning redemption and a homecoming. Good food is as much a part of daily life as theology and in some scenes, the reader gets both.
Every fatted calf needs a prodigal son and Jack Boughton is a true example of the type. He has been absent from home for twenty years and his relationship with his family, which was never easy, has to be rebuilt. He has a drink problem and even more personal and emotional baggage than he left with. Because of the dynamic between himself, his father and sister, he can’t talk about his difficulties, no matter how badly he needs to or how much they want him to. His father is caught between his love for his son and his awareness that not drawing a moral line would be a betrayal of his own values. For Robert Boughton, Christianity is a living power and a way of life, not a dusty relic to be brought out on Sundays. His dilemma is painful and the reader feels it with him. However, like the father in the biblical parable, he does not give his son the space he needs to express his repentance. Unlike the parable, Robinson shows us what happens after the lavish welcome home; denial does not make the pain, anger and regret go away.
For Glory, the return to Gilead is both practical and emotional. The mores of the time still dictated that if a family member needed care, the unmarried daughters were expected to provide it. Robert Boughton is dying and cannot manage on his own, so Glory does what she, and everyone else, sees as her duty. However, her situation is not one of simple, female oppression. Like Jack, she has things in her life she needs to escape from and Gilead is a haven, as it never really is for him. Her father’s needs are an escape from problems she is unable to deal with. Moreover, it soon transpires that as frail as the old man is, he is not much of a burden. Glory is much more preoccupied by her brother, as their relationship, tentative at first, intensifies.
In among the surface narrative are layers of discussion and debate. The role of the church (and which one – Ames is a Congregationalist, while Boughton is a Presbyterian) the place of theology in daily life, what it means to feel love, guilt, the pull of the past and the centrality of family and kinship, be they ever so flawed. Forgiveness is a central theme in Home because of its Christian context and because of what Jack has done and how Robert feels he has let his son down. Both of them need forgiveness, but it is hard to accept it when you cannot forgive yourself. Knowing that it is needed is does not make it easier to give, as several of the characters discover, to their anguish. If you cannot forgive, even in times of terrible need, what does that say about you? The bible warns us against judging, lest it be turned back on us, but having a value system of any sort requires making a distinction between what we see as good and bad.
This is a slow-burn of a book, where what is thought and said provides the action. However, it is not lacking in tension – that is provided as Robinson peels back each character’s history. The beauty of the writing, the powerful biblical themes and the moving denouement all make for a hugely enjoyable read.
Virago Press.  2009.  ISBN: 9-781-8440-85507. 336pp.

"It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop."
Vita Sackville-West

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Fast fact about writing

In some languages, as in English and French, the modern freezing of spelling has removed the writing more and more from pronunciation and has resulted in the need to teach spelling and the growth of fallacies like the "silent" letter (a letter is really either the symbol of a sound or it is unnecessary).