Day 192: Home

Cover for HomeBest Book of the Week!

The beautifully written, subtle novel Home by Marilynne Robinson makes me thoughtful. It is 1957. After a failed ten-year engagement, thirty-eight-year-old Glory Boughton has moved home to Gilead, Iowa, to care for her elderly father, a retired Presbyterian minister.

Her father has been waiting 20 years for the return of his best-loved son, Jack. Finally, they hear that Jack is coming home. Always unreliable and setting himself apart from the family, he arrives late, and Glory feels ambivalent about his return. Soon, though, she sees that he is tired and having difficulty being there, and she tries to help him.

The novel carefully explores the relationships between the three of them–Glory loving but distrustful of the pain Jack has caused and protective of her father, Jack trying to make a new life in painful and distressed conditions, and their father forgiving and unforgiving at the same time. In the background are the events of the civil rights movement, toward which Jack and his father have radically different views.

Jack is delicate and fragile. He tells Glory he lived as a vagrant, drunk, and cheat until he met a woman named Della, and now Della has gone back to her parents. He tries to find work in town and writes countless letters to Della.

This novel is apparently related to a previous one, Gilead. I do not know whether it could be considered a sequel, although I know it shares some characters.

To modern readers the manners and dress of this devout Iowa family seem very old-fashioned, and some readers may find the novel slow, but I found it engrossing. It is, of course, a retelling of the tale of the prodigal son.

This is a simple story on the surface, but it depicts complex characters and relationships. It is a novel about family relationships and love, written with a delicate touch. I find it difficult to express how fine I felt it to be.

Day 66: The Lacuna

Cover for The LacunaBest Book of Week 14!

My experience with reading Barbara Kingsolver has been uneven. Her first books were interesting and heartwarming, but some of her later work is more political and sometimes degenerates to lecturing on certain causes. However, The Lacuna is an absolutely enthralling historical novel.

Harrison Shepherd is a young man, half Mexican and half American, who survives an upbringing by a feckless mother and a cold father and finally begins making his own way in 1930’s Mexico. He finds a job working in Diego Rivera’s kitchen and ends up as the cook and plaster mixer in Rivera’s household with Frida Kahlo. Later, when they give Leon Trotsky a home, Shepherd works for Trotsky as a secretary and translator, and finally he returns to the United States to write Aztec historical potboilers.

The novel covers major historical events in a turbulent period, including the Communist Worker’s Movement, Trotsky’s assassination, FDR’s terms in Washington, World War II, and the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Although Shepherd’s life is extraordinary by any standards, Kingsolver was able to make it feel absolutely persuasive. While I usually dislike historical novels where ordinary people keep running into famous people, I completely accepted every sentence of this book.

Told by diary entries, newspaper articles, and letters, the novel gets going a little slowly, but eventually enthralls. Kingsolver does a great job of creating colorful and believable characters from the lives of real, historic people, something that is not simple, and completely involves readers in the events of their lives.