four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-HomeThis meditative novel, which takes place concurrently with Gilead, focuses on Reverend Robert Boughton’s daughter, Glory. In the mid-1950s, Glory, 38, returns home from a failed engagement to care for her dying father, John Ames’s (from Gilead) closest friend. She finds unexpected salvation from her prodigal brother Jack, who left Gilead two decades earlier amid scandal and has returned home to search for peace and forgiveness from his father. Stories of Jack’s vagrancy, his position as his father’s favored child, his love for a black woman, and his spiritual suffering slowly emerge. But as the family tentatively tries to forgive, trust, and love once again, they realize they must each still find their own ways home.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 325 pages. $25. ISBN: 0374299102

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Both are books of such beauty and power that they ultimately beggar description. If I cannot do Home justice in describing it, I can, at least, commend it to you with my whole heart." Emily Barton

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Nothing much happens in this wrenching book of lambent moral beauty, and yet everything important in life is at stake here: sin, forgiveness, revenge, fate, hope, disillusionment, lives ‘laid low by grief, as if it were a sickness,’ and the shimmering possibility of grace. … An urgent question resonates on every page: What is a good life? It is a question that Jack, Glory and Ames ponder with deep seriousness." Brigitte Frase

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is less about the newly returned Jack’s being forgiven than the recently returned Glory’s forgiving Jack, and herself, and her family, and finding a new kind of hope in the process. … But there are also many surprising turns and pivots in the plot line that ratchet up the tension." Tom Montgomery-Fate

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The result is a work that’s less luminous [than Gilead] but more devastating. … Robinson uses Jack’s visit home to conduct a thoughtful, exceedingly patient, examination of the nature of grace and perdition." Yvonne Zipp

New Yorker 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel quietly mobilizes the major Biblical stories of father and son: Esau, denied his birthright, begging for a blessing from his father; Joseph, reunited, finally, with his father, Jacob; the Prodigal Son, most loved because most errant. What propels the book, and makes it ultimately so powerful, is the Reverend Boughton, precisely because he is not the soft-spoken sage that John Ames is in Gilead." James Wood

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Marilynne Robinson is so powerful a writer that she can reshape how we read; her novels are engineered to slow us down, attune us to silences, guide us toward subtle but meaningful changes in phrasing. … Home’s story echoes Gilead as well, which gives the new novel the feel of a reprise and not a full-blown work in itself." Mark Athitakis

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The publisher claims these two novels can be read separately, but that’s not fair to the profound relationship between them nor, I think, to the way Home depends on its predecessor for detail and resonance. … Even more than their stylistic beauty, what’s miraculous about Gilead and Home is their explicit focus on spiritual affliction, discussed in the hard terms of Protestant theology." Ron Charles

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"As Gilead demonstrated, Ms. Robinson is better at describing spiritual yearnings and the metaphysics of faith than she is at mapping complicated psychological relationships. … [A] static, even suffocating narrative in which very little is dramatized, and much is recalled secondhand, and it makes the characters, especially Jack, seem terribly self-absorbed." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

"Writing one novel about a minister’s family is asking for trouble; writing a second seems downright unrepentant, the kind of misjudgment that could land a reputable literary author in a Christian bookstore or with a cozy series on the BBC," notes Ron Charles in the Washington Post. We would have said "isolate" rather than "land," but he and other reviewers did feel the need to assure their audiences that Home will appeal to a wide literary readership. Although framed by a story of spiritual homelessness, Home communicates universal themes, embodied by Jack’s rebellion and his complex relationships with Glory, Ames, and his father. Like Gilead, the novel ponders kindness, forgiveness, and grace through luminous, even prayerful, writing, though it is a quieter, less-colorful story overall. Some backstory may throw off readers unfamiliar with Gilead, but with the exception of Michiko Kakutani, critics called Home a remarkable achievement.