I have not read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead Books in order, however, I am not certain that it matters. Over ten years ago , I read “Gilead”, the first book in the series. A few years later, I heard Marilynne Robinson speak at Princeton Theological Seminary. Recently, I read “Jack”, the most recent in the series. I believe reading “Jack” before “Home” was helpful in understanding Jack’s return to his Iowa hometown, Gilead. These stories of the Ames and Boughton families are powerfully moving. Robinson addresses social, familial, and spiritual aspects of relations in a gentle, honest and accepting embrace. “Lila” is on my must read list. Then all four pieces will be in place and the Gilead Books will be complete (for now).
From the Ames family at the center of “Gilead”, we find a shift in “Home” to Reverend Robert Boughton’s family. Jack is one of seven Boughton children and carries the image of “the poor scoundrel brother”. Jack returns home to Gilead after a twenty year absence, complete with two decades of secrets. Glory, Jack’s 38 year old sister, has also returned home to nurse their ailing and aged father. It is some time in the 1950’s because Jack is paying close attention to news of the Montgomery civil rights movement. The intricate characterizations in this story define courtesy, kindness, shame, forgiveness, transgression, grace and love. There is a saying, “To understand is to forgive.” Papa, John Boughton, ssaid, “You must forgive in order to understand.”
Robinson uses precise and colorful prose to bring life to uneventful storytelling in a way that breeds suspense. People act in this book how they actually do in real life. “Home” is a novel about family relationships and secrets, and an accurate representation of the tension that can exist among people living under the same roof.
Jack is one of the great characters in recent literature. A bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who can not hold a job, he is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditional father, though he remains Boughton’s favorite child. Brilliant, lovable and wayward, Jack leaves Gilead just before his father passes away. His wandering is not over and his home may yet be found.
“God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”HOME ; by Marilynne Robinson
Robinson’s books are so full of significant meaning they warrant a return visit. Rereads are as good as, if not more satisfying than, the first read.