This book is the followup to Marilynne Robinson’s previous novel Giliad, and it improves on its predecessor in every way. Given that Gilead was a work of rare beauty and insight, the fact that Home has done it one better is a magnificient achievement.
Gilead was in many ways the archetypal literary novel: jewel-like writing, flawed but poignant characters, steeped in questions of philosophy, religion, and beauty–and no plot at all. Oh, sure, there was something kind of resembling a plot that eventually got started about 2/3s of the way through the book, but the conflict that sketched the final act of that book was in no sense the driver of the book as a whole. Home, on the other hand, has plenty of plot. It has, in fact, the same plot that appeared in the last third of Gilead: the return of Jack Boughton, the black sheep of the Boughton clan, to his family home after twenty years absense.
In Gilead we get only sidelong glances at what effect this has on the Boughton family, as Gilead was framed as the journal of Ames, who was a lifelong friend to the Boughton clan. But Home is told from the point of view of Glory Boughton, the youngest of the Boughton daughters, who has returned home to her father’s house after the failure of her long-delayed engagement. Glory gives us a much more intimate look into the family relations of the Boughton clan, and provides a closer perspective on the reprobate (but perhaps reformed) Jack and their father, a Presbyterian minister. Much of the book is taken up with Glory’s reminisces of her childhood in the Boughton home, and these reminisces, along with the quiet turmoil stirred up by Jack’s return, provide us with a deep and compelling look into the Boughton home. Here Robinson has done something really remarkable, describing a family that is neither a saintly ideal nor a mass of dysfunction, but a family that’s flawed but good. The understanding that the author brings us of the joys and failures of the Boughton clan is the novel’s strongest point.
The ending of the book does not suggest pat answers or easy resolutions to the problems of the family, and the singular problem of their prodigal Jack. But it is nonetheless full of hope.
This is the best book I’ve read yet this year.