Glory Boughton, aged thirty-eight, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Soon her brother, Jack--the prodigal son of the family, gone for twenty years--comes home too, looking for refuge and trying to make peace with a past littered with tormenting trouble and pain.
Told from the perspective of Glory Boughton, this book explored the sometimes-complicated relationships between fathers and sons. Reverend Robert Boughton was aging, taken care of by his daughter, Glory, and was getting the surprise of his lifetime – the return of his long-lost son, Jack. Jack was always the wayward son – a thief, drunkard and reckless man. Despite Jack’s flaws, his father always considered him his favorite. Jack had not seen his father in 20 years, and his return home overjoyed his ailing father.
But soon enough, and despite Jack’s best efforts, his return conjured up too many bad memories, and the missteps from Jack’s past continued to haunt him at home. His relationship with his father never took off, and his efforts to make Reverend Ames proud of him fell short.
The theme of returning home was prevalent throughout this story. Jack and Glory had returned home, and “home” brought different emotions for both siblings. For Jack, it was a reminder of his mistakes in a town that always cast suspicion on him. For Glory, it was a reminder of her failure to marry and have children, and reaffirmed her responsibility to keep up the Boughton home for her siblings once their father died – so they too could have a sense of home whenever they wanted.
Home was an intensely emotional book – often complicated to read because of the theological conversations – but one I wish I could have read in college, with the benefit of a professor to guide me through. Home may be where the heart is, but for many, it’s just a memory that’s best left in the past. Read Home is you want to take a painful journey of returning home and reconnecting with family – for better or worst.
This was an absolutely beautiful book. There were several sections where I found myself so moved by the drama unfolding on the pages that I couldn't help but cry. Robinson writes with such grace and tact that it is impossible not to be moved by her characters' quiet proclamations and heartfelt utterances. Whether it is the sorrow of a life that has been forsaken or the terrible humbleness of Jack's return, the writing is replete with wellsprings of sentiment and passion. The words are quiet and serene, but just underneath the surface I was witnessing torrents of ragged emotion and years of suppressed pain.
The Reverend, ever hopeful and gentle with his children, cannot seem to ever be able to wrap his mind around what it is that his son needs. Although he longs to give his son the forgiveness that he has come home for, he is unable to let the transgressions of the past be unburdened from his heart and give his son peace. It is such a juxtaposition, to see the tenderness that he expresses toward Jack, all the while withholding the one thing that his son most desperately needs, the thing that is so hard for him to ask for. He is constantly at odds with himself, his heart longing to grant pardon and his head ever refusing. It broke my heart to watch these two men fumble so blindly with their intentions, to see them both in so much pain but be unable to express it or relieve it.
Jack, despite being the miscreant in this tale, was the one character whom I felt the most for. He was so spiritually depleted and it seemed as if all of his hope had been abandoned. He was quiet and gentle, yes, but also pitifully humbled and sorrowfully contrite. He seemed to worry himself to distraction, mostly about what others thought of him or what they would think. There was a quiet struggle taking place within: his need for acceptance and forgiveness pitted against his need for self-preservation and secrecy. He had a wry and very self-deprecating attitude in his interactions with Glory, a way of making both more and less of the situations that he found himself in. In his desire for his father's blessing he seemed to expect the wounds he would incur, believing in some way that he deserved them.
I also really liked how the view of Jack from Glory's eyes gave his character more depth. The relationship between the two was fraught with tension, but it was there that Jack seemed to open up. Though he would never really reveal all of his secrets, his attempts to reach out to Glory brought the gentleness and meekness of his character into full relief.
Though I found the last section of the book to be the most emotional section, there were several instances when an ordinary situation would provoke a response from one of the characters that was deeply affecting. Reading this book was much like walking in a minefield; I never knew when something was going to come out and grab me and shake me to the core. During one of the more touching arguments between father and son, the Reverend, full of sorrow, exclaims to his son, "If I'd had to die without seeing your face again, I'd have doubted the goodness of the Lord." The fact that this statement comes from a man of the cloth makes it all the more powerful and affecting. What the book really boils down to is the conundrum of a man of God refusing his most beloved child release, the child in turn unable to finally give his father the peace he so obviously needs. But it is within the framework of this story that Robinson drives her characters to strive and twist in their yearnings to exist as a family complete, a situation that sadly never comes to pass.
I really felt strongly for this book, and I think that anyone who enjoys literature steeped with emotion would enjoy it too. Robinson touches profoundly on the themes of forgiveness, absolution and regret with beautiful accuracy, making this a very quiet but stunning read. This book is a companion to Robinson's 2004 novel Gilead. Both books take place at the same time, so it's not necessary to read them in any particular order. Highly recommended.
Robinson has many strengths as an author. Her writing is beautiful, never hurried. She excels at conveying a sense of place and character. But in this book, it is the space between the characters that is described with the most precision. The events of the past and present come together to create multi-layered relationships between the characters. Glory, formerly Jack's kid sister who looked up to him, now takes on a role of support and guidance. Reverand Boughton (or as Jack refers to him, the Old Gent) remains the center of his household, but comes to rely on Glory and even Jack for basic needs.
This is not a book in which a lot happens. The plot is not the main point. But Robinson put us inside the heads and hearts of Glory, Jack, and Reverand Boughton, helping us understand each of them through their relationships with each other.
But wow! What an awesome novel. Robinson has the verbal precision of Philip Roth at his best, only the world about which she writes is muted, soft, understated, where Roth's is bold and confrontational. I think that is where the power in the novel lies. The reader is never made privy to the inner hurt that the brother and sister are feeling. We can only wonder at the torments they are going through as they tentatively negotiate a way round their disappointments. All this in a very unusual third person style, in which the sister, Glory, is ever-present, but somehow secondary in much of what is said to her brother and father. But that, I guess, is the point: this woman who was never able to take control of her life. Ah, Glory!
Perhaps this book means more to people who understand more about theology than I do. I appreciate that some of the religious themes and discussions passed right over my head. Still, this wasn't a problem when I read Gilead, and Home is really more about family and relationships.
By the end I felt so frustrated by the lack of events that I even became frustrated by the characters I liked and was hurrying to the end. Then I was further frustrated by the questions that went unanswered. I'm puzzled because usually I like books that focus on characterisation and that have unresolved endings, but in this case I'm just left irritated.
It's not clear just why Jack decided to return to Gilead, but both Glory and his father decide to give him a chance. The story moves along at a leisurely pace, much like a lazy summer day. Jack finds much-needed stability, tending to the garden and minor repairs around the house. Glory finds companionship, love, and understanding that she didn't think possible from Jack. And yet, Jack's demons never completely leave him. His status with Della is uncertain. While he achieves a kind of reconciliation with his father, tensions do flare from time to time as Robert is unable to completely let go of past hurts. Jack's relationship with John Ames is also tenuous. Eventually, Jack takes the only reasonable action to alleviate his pain, although as the reader we know it will never really go away.
This is a sad, moving, and yet also surprisingly uplifting book of family relationships, redemption, and grace. Highly recommended.
a predestined fate?
Robinson’s skill at characterization is remarkable, because this book could have been a crashing bore. Most of the action is mental or emotional. Very little happens. Glory and Jack and the “Old Gent” strive to be polite and kind to one another, relying on formality to ease their awkwardness, trying at first to avoid subjects fraught with harsh memory. Even so, the pitfalls are numerous, needs and expectations clash, and nearly every conversation ends with an apology for some small act or utterance. Time passes slowly, routinely, and the relationships evolve. As tense and bewildering as the family dynamics are, being among the Boughtons is not unpleasant. They all try so hard to get it right, most of the time. There is a lot of Christian theology fitted into this story. By that I do not mean preaching, I mean it fits into the story, as part and parcel of who these characters are. I was a bit put off by the very last sentence of the book, and for that I withheld the last half star.
[Home] is often referred to as a companion novel to Robinson’s earlier [Gilead], which I have not yet read. This novel has no problem standing alone, but it does rather beg the question of why Reverend Boughton’s old friend John Ames has so little enthusiasm for Jack’s return even though he knows what it means to Jack’s father. I understand Gilead is Ames’ story, and I now want very much to read that.
Home takes place concurrently and in the same locale as its predecessor, Gilead – but this time we visit the household of the Reverend Robert Broughton, Ames’ closest friend. Glory Broughton, the Reverend’s eldest daughter at 38, has returned home to care for her dying father. And soon Jack, the long-lost prodigal son of the family, gone for two decades, comes home too – looking for refuge and attempting to make peace with his past, scarred with torment.
Jack is an alcoholic – a bad boy from childhood – who cannot hold a job. Thought he is his father’s most beloved child, their relationship is a most uneasy one: Jack ever at odds with his traditionalist father. He does form a moving bond with Glory while the two care for the aging patriarch – but she is unable to help him in any real way – in spite of his pleas that she help him stay sober.
Admittedly, Marilynne Robinson is not one of my favourite authors, but there is no doubt she can write! These are richly developed characters, particularly Jack, who is unforgettable. I disagree with the publisher’s summary in part: Home is a moving and healing book about families, family secrets, and the passing of the generations, about love and death and faith. I did not find much evidence of healing in the novel, save for perhaps the last quarter of it. But certainly family secrets abound, and it is a moving read about love, death, and faith. Recommended.
Where I found “Gilead” to be full of joy and simple wonder, “Home” is full of loss and regret and quiet but tortured grief. The feelings are just as real, but the intensity is so muted as to be almost subdued. Possibly it's because this book is in the third person, as opposed to “Gilead” - but there's something else. Again, it's the same place, the same characters, but there's something so tightly closed off that the reader feels at arm's length from the emotions.
I suppose I'd consider the main character of “Home” to be Glory Boughton, although the focus of the book is her brother Jack...a fact not lost on Glory. Jack, the prodigal son, has returned home, as she has, to the last part of their father's life. The book focuses on Reverend Boughton's relationship with his most beloved and most troubled child, and almost as an aside, the struggle Glory has in dealing with being constantly on the sidelines of most of the relationships of her life.
“Her whole life long that house was either where Jack might not be or where he was not. Why did he leave? Where had he gone? Those questions had hung in the air for twenty years while everyone tried to ignore them, had tried to act as if their lives were of sufficient interest to distract them...”
The time period was interesting to me. The story takes place in the 1960's, but while the rest of the country is experiencing the civil rights movement – in this small Iowa town, it feels at times if it's the 1860's. Where Glory, a 38-year old school teacher is seen as an old maid, life practically over, and where riding in a car is a major event.
Robinson's descriptions of the town and the family home are so that one can practically smell the lemon wax and sun warmed wood.
“The room was filled with those things that seemed to exist so that children can be forbidden to touch them – porcelain windmills and pagodas and china dogs...”
“She saw him put his hand on the shoulder of their mother's chair, touch the fringe on a lampshade, as if to confirm for himself that the uncanny persistence of half-forgotten objects, all in their old places, was not some trick of the mind.”
There's a sense of hopelessness in “Home”. That in a world where things are changing, sometimes faster than the world seems ready for, this town, this place, is stuck in time. The characters' lives are set, their roles in the family...their relationships with one another. No matter the fierce desire for reconciliation or recognition of past events...nothing seems to change.
“The dark little room smelled strongly of whiskey and sweat. It seemed almost domestic, and yet there was a potency of loneliness about about it like a dark spirit, a soul that had improvised this crude tabernacle to stand in the place of other shelter, flesh.”
The characters live so close to one another, but they remain so far apart that the might as well be strangers. Where in some cases home is the place where one can escape the world and be comforted and healed, this home re-opens the old wounds in ways that will never mend.
“Jack sat pondering his father, and there was something in his face more absolute than gentleness or compassion, something purged of all the words that might describe it.”
“Home” was like looking back on the past...a past that we've left behind but that these characters are trapped in. This gentle cage of home has bars that can be seen through, and sometimes reached through, but never escaped.
At least not in life they won't.
Now Jack has returned home, to stay “awhile.” Over the course of his stay, we get bits and pieces of information about Glory’s broken engagement and Jack’s alcoholism, time in prison, and the woman and child he left in St. Louis. But this isn’t a book in which very much happens. It’s a book about forgiveness, understanding, redemption and, mostly, home. It’s quiet, thoughtful and slow-paced. That said, I lost patience in the middle with the pacing and the characters’ awkwardness. Glory cries easily but always quietly; Jack apologizes often and laughs, not joyously but ironically; the Reverend frowns on the use of the piano for anything but hymns and couldn’t possibly be called “Dad.” These people are so worried about intruding on each others’ privacy that they barely manage to communicate at all. Yes, I know this was before the let-it-all-hang-out era but did people really live like this, even a minister’s family in small-town Iowa in the ‘50s?
But after plodding through the middle hundred pages or so, I was unexpectedly moved at the end of the book by one character who has never felt himself at home anywhere and another who finally realizes what home means to her and how it will determine the rest of her life.
Once again Ms. Robinson uses water as a significant symbol. In "Housekeeping," one of the best novels I have ever read, water is a great leveler, a deadly weight pulling those who cannot escape Lake Fingerbone to the ultimate conformity that is death. It is something to be risen over. In "Gilead," water baptizes, which, oddly, is an introduction to death. Here, Jack keeps a picture of a river, which represents to him a passage, something that will transport him past the shore of perdition. For Glory, this is an affirming story; the water she sheds in her tears - is there anyting there for Jack?
"Home" matches "Gilead" in terms of deeply-felt and lasting family issues, if not its creative and dramatic structure. I do value this piece on its own, even though it works well as a companion -piece. This marvellous author takes you along expertly, showing you the full range of human emotion and aspiration. Her touch with her fallen characters is flawless.
Now I itch to get to Ms. Robinson's non-fiction. I'll be reading "The Death of Adam" soon.
Home is an abjectly sad tale of the return home of the black sheep of the family after 20 years. His elderly father's health his failing, and his youngest sister is reluctantly back living at home after her own life has fallen apart. At heart he is a kind man desperate to find some goodness in his own soul, yet despite the love of his sister and devotion of his father he cannot break the pattern of his own self-destruction and self-narrative that he is someone unworthy of love.
Robinson for sure gets under the hood of the sorrow and complexity of the family's emotions, but I did find Home a very bleak read. The entirety of the book is made up of the family's struggle with Jack and his struggles with himself, with little movement of plot or place to break a little sunshine through the clouds, and whilst the writing was first class it was a depressing place to hang out in.
3 stars - well conceived yet suffocating.
I liked Gilead and I loved Home. The characters and some of the events of Gilead are recast here in Glory’s and Jack’s perspectives, which fascinate me and make me want to re-read Gilead. I have already downloaded library audio of the third novel, Lila.
This book breaks a few of the rules beginning writers are taught. 1. Show, don't tell. 2. The protagonist must change by the story's end. Only a writer this talented could get away with breaking rule 1. As for the second, since no one changes, we are left with a polemic, a moral lesson, and a very long one at that. If that was Robinson's purpose here, a short story of thirty pages or so could've done the job. The book was at least 100 pages too long, and really needed some more variety in the "beats". Drinking coffee, "laughing," laying down for a rest...it got old and almost silly after awhile. They must have drunk 50 gallons of coffee in this book.
Highly over-rated book, in my opinion. It's high-toned intelligence may have awed many, I suppose. How else to explain writers like this and Smiley? I'd like to see Robinson tackle a book with real scenes, with people acting real, and not just writing exposition for page after page. Show us what you got.
In this sequel to Robinson's Pulitzer prize winning novel Gilead, Home takes us back to Gilead, Iowa. The plot moves as slowly as the small town it's set in. Glory Boughton returns to Gilead to care for her father. Shortly thereafter, her brother Jack (the troublemaker) arrives. Throw in a few meetings with the Rev. John Ames, and that's the entire plot.
Normally, this would be a criticism. Fortunately, Home is not normal! What makes this book special is the way Robinson writes about the relationships between two siblings, their father, and an aging (softening?) preacher. I've never understood characters the way I understand Glory and Jack. It makes me want to reread Gilead, now that I know them so well.
Since Home is written from the perspective of Glory (while Gilead was written as the memoir of the Rev. John Ames), there is not as much religious reflection to ponder. That said, Robinson's understanding and exploration of the relationships between very different people leave the reader much to chew on.
Home is a fitting sequel to Gilead, and a fine novel in its own right. Yes Home moves slow—the perfect speed for this story.
All in all, it is a beautiful book. The angst of the father in dealing with the prodigal son. The sister, Glory, dealing with her own disappoinments and the joy she felt in having her brother home. Even Jacks own feelings of trying to please his father. My disappoinment came in never truly understanding why Jack felt the way he did. Did I miss something?
On the whole, I found Home to be an emotionally demanding and deeply satisfying read. Definitely one I know I will re-read at some point in the future.
Many of the events of this story are also told in the companion book, [Gilead]. This is primarily from Glory's perspective, however, and the portrait of Jack is rather different if no less poignant. Your heart breaks for the boy - and man - who feels that he is past all redemption, who expects that behind every loving word is a rebuke. The brother-sister dynamics between Jack and Glory as they dance around and try not to insult each other is spot on. I couldn't help but compare and contrast this story with the parable of the prodigal son, though exactly who is the prodigal in Home could keep a conversation going for a long time.
Both novels are set in the same place, over the same stretch of time. In a small Iowa town in the mid-1950's, two minister friends are growing old: John Ames, the Congregationalist minister, and Robert Boughton, the former leader of the Presbyterian flock.
"There were so many jokes between them. Once when they were boys in seminary they were walking across a bridge, arguing about some point of doctrine. A wind had blown her father's hat into the water, and he had rolled up his pant legs and walked in the river after it, not gaining on it at all, still disputing, as it sailed along in the current. "I was winning that argument!" her father said.
""Well, I was laughing too hard to keep up my side of it." The hat finally caught on a snag, and that was the whole story, but it always made them laugh. The joke seemed to be that once they were very young and now they were very old, and that they had been the same day after day and were somehow at the end of it all so utterly changed."
Ames is the narrator of Gilead, and one of the most stunning things about that book is his wise, lyrical narrative voice. He's wrapping up loose ends the best he can, and preparing for death: he finds himself, at the end of his life, unexpectedly married, with a young son, and the purpose of his narrative is to relay the story of the Ames family to his child, so young Robby will know his roots. It's an extremely intimate narration, infused with love and quietness. Even as it tells of the past theological struggles in the Ames family, between John's father and grandfather during the time of the Civil War, the current John Ames speaks out of calm, in the last stages of making peace with his life.
Home, on the other hand, while also quiet by most standards, is told in a third-person narration that centers on a trio, not a single person. Just down the street from Ames and his young wife and son, his old friend Reverend Boughton welcomes his middle-aged daughter Glory, who is leaving her own disappointed hopes in order to care for her father in his old age. Shortly thereafter, the Reverend's best-loved and prodigal son Jack also returns, "to stay awhile." Both brother and sister have secrets, wounds from their former lives which they hold close to themselves and only gradually reveal to one another. And even though the Reverend is nearing the end of his life, just like his old friend, he doesn't seem to have Ames' peace. He is tortured with guilt and worry over the unresolved grief in his life, and his inability to come to terms with Jack's mistakes - either to forgive his son, or to stop loving him. Neither is he able to engage with the struggles in Jack's own life that are tormenting him, and thereby achieve the connection with his son that he so craves. For those who come to Home from Gilead, and therefore know what Jack is keeping from his family, there are many heartbreaking moments between father and son, in which the reader knows that the stakes are much higher - or, at least different, more complicated - than Reverend Boughton realizes:
"Jack watched him for a moment. Then he said, "I heard you all laughing about that magazine. It's pretty foolish, all in all. Could I see it for a second? Thanks. I thought he made one interesting point in here somewhere, though. He said the seriousness of American Christianity was called into question by our treatment of the Negro. It seems to me that there is something to be said for that idea."
Boughton said, "Jack's been looking at television."
"Yes, I have. And I have lived in places where there are Negro people. They are very fine Christians, many of them."
Boughton said, "Then we can't have done so badly by them, can we? That is the essential thing."
Jack looked at him, then he laughed. "I'd say we've done pretty badly. Especially by Christian standards. As I understand them." Jack sank back into his chair as if he were the most casual man on earth and said, "What do you think, Reverend Ames."
Ames looked at him. "I have to agree with you. I'm not really familiar with the issue. I haven't been following the news as closely as I once did. But I agree."
"It isn't exactly news--" Jack smiled and shook his head. "Sorry, Reverend," he said. Robby brought the tractor to show him, let him work the steering wheel, ran the tractor along the arm and over the back of the chair.
Boughton said, "I don't believe in calling anyone's religion into question because he has certain failings. A blind spot or two. There are better ways to talk about these things.""
One of the things I love about both versions of the Gilead/Home story is the complex way it's engaged with issues of race: even in this rural, middle-American town (so homogeneous that Glory says "There aren't any colored people in Gilead"), the scars of American racial cruelty reach deep into both the Ames and Boughton stories, estranging fathers and sons throughout the generations. This seems to me a profound truth about oppression: Martin Luther King said, famously, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and Robinson makes the point that injustice anywhere is also a threat to human connection, to communion among family members, even those living sheltered lives hundreds of miles away from the apparent sites of conflict.
But she also portrays how complicated it is even to address, let alone resolve, these issues, because they involve different versions of "right" colliding. Reverend Boughton, Jack and Glory are all sympathetic characters who love each other - and that can only get them so far. Not to go on a name-dropping extravaganza, but I think it was Hegel who pointed out that tragic conflict is often not the collision of Right and Wrong, but of Right and Right: two different sets of priorities and principles, two parties acting according to their consciences, are unable to budge from the collision course they've set. By these standards Home isn't an unmitigated tragedy: the characters, through their quiet struggles, are able to approach one another more closely and come to some degree of peace before the story ends. But there is a tragic underpinning, a gulf between these people that cannot be wholly traversed. Throughout it all, though, Robinson is so perceptive and subtle in her depictions, and so lyrical in her prose, that the elements of tragedy and quiet triumph come together in a work of great beauty.
It is a truth about families that children have their own memories of a life at home, different to what their parents knew of the same time. They grow up, siblings become somewhat distant from each other as they move on in their lives, parents reach out how they can within the reality of their child's new freedom. Coming home isn't only about returning to those memories, it is also about changing our views of them, understanding them from a different point of view, now that we are older and the world has changed. Relationships grow because we grow, they are changed because we change. That is the memory I come away with after reading this book, mixed in with my own memories of visiting homes from my childhood, of spending time with my family around the dinner table. If the every day life of day to day experiences don't impress you when you are reading, you'll want to look elsewhere for something to catch your attention, but if you can enjoy a story that focuses on the discovery of a character's past and the deepening of relationships around said character, this book is for you. It is beautifully written and, in my opinion, is worth the visit into the mundane world of one family's home.