Monday, March 22, 2010

Marilynne Robinson/HOUSEKEEPING


In a tiny town in the Midwest, where winter is harsh and springtime means destructive flooding, two sisters are shuffled from the care of their mother to their grandmother to their great-aunts to their aunt, as layer after layer of the family renders itself incapable of caring for them.

Housekeeping was first published in 1980 and was Robinson's first nomination for the Pulitzer Prize (she later won for Gilead). I came across the book as I was coming up with my Fill-in-the-Gaps list; it had made many a "Best Of" roster. It's a literary novel in the classic sense, very concerned with language and feeling. Replete with glorious visuals, the prose is very wintery and atmospheric. It is brief--only 220 pages--and so the reading of it comprises an afternoon of dripping simile. I enjoyed it, and am glad I read it. I can't say I was profoundly affected; for me, with this kind of book, I always wish there was a little more. But it was certainly a good read, and Robinson succeeded in bringing to life very vividly a small and failing town on the edges of the wilderness.

Anyone else read any Robinson? Any recommendations?

19 comments:

Pamala Knight said...

Man, you are tearing up the fill-in-the-gaps project! I've not read this one but did enjoy GILEAD very much. Robinson has a real talent for making good use of only a few words. If HOUSEKEEPING is as beautiful and spare as GILEAD then I'll have to add it to my TBR pile.

moonrat said...

Pamala--yeah! I'm trying to knock out a whole bunch in a row so if I accidentally go on an epic fantasy binge for six months (which happened last year...) I'll still have finished my yearly quota :)

Thanks for the rec re: Gilead! It's also on my Gaps list. I would definitely describe Housekeeping as "beautiful and spare." I have heard it's very different from Gilead. But it's definitely worth a read, particularly if you're a fan. It's very... I struggled with the right word in my review, and I'm struggling again now, but I think the word is "mystical." You know how when you're a kid and you're having some kind of outdoor adventure on your own where everything around you feels full of magic and/or danger? That's what the book is about--capturing that mystical-ness (and she does).

J.D. Klousia said...

I'll also recommend Gilead; it's a perfectly crafted book, probably the best I'll read all year (and it was the first book I read!). At the beginning, I wondered how Robinson would be able to sustain a novel length letter, but she did it - and she did it well!

moonrat said...

Awesome! This is exciting. Now I definitely know I have it to look forward to :)

Mary Witzl said...

I read Housekeeping ages ago and absolutely loved it. There was something very elegant and moving about the language and the story was sad, but beautifully told.

Now I really want to read Gilead.

Kiersten White said...

I love HOUSEKEEPING, but GILEAD is probably my all-time favorite book ; )

Mary said...

Wow. Dripping simile. I'm always amazed when someone reads HOUSEKEEPING and isn't knocked out. In my opinion, the writing is visual and poetic and evocative. In virtually every word and phrase, Robinson manages to capture the exquisite beauty of sorrow, and sorrow's confirmation of the existence of love and its eventual return. And she does this with an amazing weaving of the original expulsion from the garden to the story of Ruthie and her family. And then there's the connection she makes between transience (on all its levels) and redemption. I suppose it's no more than a question of taste--and maybe this book requires more work than most readers want to give it--but I could read it a hundred times and still learn about myself and god and best of all, writing. The story kept me turning the pages the first time; the insights keep me coming back. I loved GILEAD too but HOUSEKEEPING is unique in the way few books are.

Keetha said...

I had the same reaction to it - I liked it, I thought it was well written and atmospheric. I'm glad I read it and I'd recommend it, but I wouldn't read it again.

Kassandra said...

I read Housekeeping years ago but images have stayed with me. After the train wreck, when people see the window lights under the water. Or later when someone dives down and touches window glass with their feet. Robinson makes such a simple connection between physicality and sorrow / horror / remorse. There are parts of the book I liked less, but I can't argue with the way Robinson faultlessly connects emotion with the senses.

moonrat said...

Wow, I love all these responses. Thanks, guys. I actually went to the library yesterday and borrowed Gilead because of all the comments here.

For me, although the plot didn't make me 100% happy, Housekeeping VIVIDLY recalled many feelings of my childhood--I mean consistently, and throughout. Just in the observations of every sentence. And for that I do think it was a special book.

Mary said...

But would you acquire it if it came across your desk?

Whit's Books said...

I want to hear more about the "fill-in-the-gaps" project! Do you have a list? Maybe I should start my own list of (personal book)gaps than need to be filled.

roseduncan said...

I read this book long ago and loved it. Such elegant writing. There was another book that came out the same year and I really have no idea how that would hold up. During the Reign of the Queen of Persia by Joan Chase? Anyone read that recently?

moonrat said...

Whit--woohoo! Fill-in-the-Gaps evangelism!! Basically, the goal is to give us some incentive to tackle the "should have reads" in life (and all of us have different kinds of should haves). The rules are very loose and personally determined, but the guidelines suggest you create a list of 100 titles you wish you'd read, and, over the course of the next 5 years, try to finish 75 of them. (Numbers, time period, etc subject to personal adjustment.) That way, you can give up on 1 in 4 books and still "win" (like, say Finnigan's Wake just ain't working out for you. You can put it down, no foul).

So way back (a year ago! wow) I posted this call to arms: http://tinyurl.com/ccbd4q

That pretty much explains it. We then got a volunteer and she created a website for us all to get together and encourage one another:

http://fillinthegaps100.blogspot.com/

Emily Cross, our webmistress extraordinaire, will hook you up with blog access if you want to create your own list and play along. (It's definitely not too late--we always have a couple new takers every month.)

moonrat said...

Mary--oh yeah. Beautiful writing. As they say at acquisitions meetings, the "there" is there.

I definitely get why this is a great book. I think I was just unhappy with the plot. Ha! Because, you know, literature is supposed to make us happy ;)

Mary said...

I think it's supposed to make you happy when you write it, not necessarily when you read it:)

Glad to hear your answer though-- thanks!

M. M. Justus said...

The book actually takes place in a fictionalized Sandpoint, Idaho, not the Midwest [g]. I used to live in a town very like Fingerbone, although not in the 1950s.

Brilliant, wonderful book, and it was made into a brilliant, wonderful movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093225/). Please don't let the cover of the video fool you). It's one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I've ever seen.

moonrat said...

Thanks, Justice. I... didn't realize Idaho wasn't the Midwest. But saying that probably just makes it worse, doesn't it?

angelle said...

i read this last year. it was a good read, but not a great read. i wasn't blown away by it. it's a little TOO quiet for me and not emotionally affective enough.