Housekeeping (1980)- Marilynne Robinson
Verdict: Try it.
Misfits. Drifters. Strangers. These types of characters are the main preoccupations of Marilynne Robinson’s first novel. After the suicide of their mother, Ruth and Lucille Stone, must learn to survive in the hands of other family members, namely friendly vagrant aunt Sylvie whose housekeeping skills are at best questionable, and whose childrearing skills are soon deemed harmful by society.
This is the second book I have read by Robinson, and although I prefer Gilead, Housekeeping is powerful in its own way. Robinson can write a beautiful a sentence out the most mundane topic. Fortunately, Housekeeping is anything but mundane. The themes of loneliness, wandering, and identity are emotionally resonant. Each character feels relevant and true. Moby-Dick and biblical references make me particularly happy. And Robinson makes sure that you will never look at train tracks in the same way. At the same time, I have a hard time recommending Housekeeping to everyone.
While verbally light on its feet, the themes are at times devastating. It is also very psychological, so for such a short novel, Housekeeping can feel lengthy. The biblical themes may also rub people the wrong way. But while I can’t be sure everyone will like Housekeeping, I still think everyone should try it. I think it can serve as mirror for ourselves when we struggle with identity. More importantly, Housekeeping is a reminder that the other, especially theother whom doesn’t meet our standards, is also like us— a person.
Ultimately, Housekeeping is a book about human beings and human dignity. It’s hard to find fault with that, especially when done so well.