Home A Novel

Marilynne Robinson




Trade Paperback

336 Pages


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Winner of the Orange PrizeA National Book Critics Circle Award FinalistA National Book Award Finalist
Shortlisted for the International IMPAC Literary AwardWinner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Winner of the Christianity Today Book Award
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of the Year
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Best Book of the Year
A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year
A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
A Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Marilynne Robinson returns to the small town in Iowa where her Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, Gilead, was set. Home is an independent novel that is set concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames’s closest friend. 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 ongoing trouble and pain. Jack, a bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who cannot hold a job, is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, though he remains Boughton’s most beloved child. Brilliant, lovable, and wayward, Jack forges an intense bond with Glory and engages painfully with Ames, his godfather and namesake.  Their story is one of families, family secrets, and the passing of the generations, about love, death, faith, and healing.


Praise for Home

"Home is a companion piece to Gilead, an account of the same time (the summer of 1956), in the same place (Gilead, Iowa), with the same cast of characters as the earlier novel. Each book is strengthened and deepened by a reading of the other . . . The two books, different in their form and approach as well as in the details they reveal and the stories they ultimately tell, are an enactment of humanity's broader dance of ever-attempted, ever-failing communication—through a glass darkly. This is not, of itself, a novel endeavor for the novel (Edith Wharton once wrote, with lyrical concise wit, 'I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story'); rather it is the gravitas and patience with which Robinson, whose 1998 book of essays The Death of Adam revealed her rigorous Christian spiritual inquiry, has, in these two novels, channeled that rigor in fictional form; the result is two works of art of impressively unfashionable seriousness and engagement . . . Robinson, throughout Home, is tackling almost the opposite of what she undertook in Gilead: rather than granting a direct and illuminated voice to a single, thoughtful soul, she stands back—writing in the third person, albeit in a third person that privileges Glory's point of view—and allows her characters to perform their small daily rituals, to have their conversations, to live through their misunderstandings, each in his or her particular isolation. Crucially, she allows at least very distinct experiences—that of the devout, to which John Ames, Robert Boughton, and even Glory could be said to belong; and Jack's secular universe—to interact with one another, each with its own language and its own jurisprudence . . . What is remarkable about Home—and why it is, to this reader, an even stronger accomplishment than its companion volume; not in spite of its longueurs and its repetitiveness but because of them—is that it is both a spiritual and a mundane accounting."—Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books

"Home is a book full of doubleness and paradox, at once serene and volcanic, ruthless and forgiving. It is an anguished pastoral, a tableau of decency and compassion that is also an angry and devastating indictment of moral cowardice and unrepentant, unacknowledged sin. It would be inaccurate to say that the novel represents yet another breathless exposé of religious hypocrisy, or a further excavation of the dark secrets that supposedly lurk beneath the placid surface of small-town life. When Robinson writes that 'complacency was consistent with the customs and manners of Presbyterian Gilead and was therefore assumed to be justified in every case,' she is not scoring an easy, sarcastic point. There is real kindness and generosity in the town, and its theological disposition is accordingly tolerant and charitable . . . Readers who come to Home after Gilead will know that during his 20-year exile Jack met a black woman and had a child with her. His return to Gilead is in part a reconnaissance mission, an attempt to discover if the town might be a suitable home for a mixed-race family. In 1956, there are 'no colored people in Gilead,' but it has not always been that way. They left after their church was burned, even though Ames remembers the arson as 'a little nuisance fire' that happened long ago. And Ames’s 'shabby old town' is a place where a black family is afraid to be out on the road when the sun goes down. These ugly facts complicate the beauty of Home, but the way Robinson embeds them in the novel is part of what makes it so beautiful. It is a book unsparing in its acknowledgment of sin and unstinting in its belief in the possibility of grace. It is at once hard and forgiving, bitter and joyful, fanatical and serene. It is a wild, eccentric, radical work of literature that grows out of the broadest, most fertile, most familiar native literary tradition."—A. O. Scott, The New York Times Book Review

"Marilynne Robinson's  Home seems at first to be a sequel to Gilead, her acclaimed 2004 novel, but it is more like the second panel of a diptych: The two make a pair . . . Home is a wise, beautifully written, deeply meditated tale, but also a disturbing one. It holds out the possibility of home but shows the price that must be paid for it; and shows that the price, for some, is too high."—Alan Jacobs, The Wall Street Journal

"Rich and resonant . . . Gilead and Home fit with and around each other perfectly, each complete on its own, yet enriching and enlivening the other . . . Both are books of such beauty and power."—Emily Barton, Los Angeles Times

"Powerful . . . Home begins simply, eschewing obvious verbal fineness, and slowly grows in luxury—its last fifty pages are magnificently moving."—James Wood, The New Yorker

"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 silence, guide us toward subtle but meaningful changes in phrasing. ‘Prayerful’ is the best word to describe Robinson’s prose, not simply because her books are so deeply concerned with matters of faith but because they have the simple meditative energy of prayers themselves. Her third novel, Home, is a companion piece to her 2004 Pulitzer-winning novel, Gilead. Once again, the story is set in the mid-‘50s and centers on Jack Boughton, a preacher’s son who returns to his childhood home in Gilead, Iowa, after a disgraceful adulthood. But unlike the previous novel, which focused on the home of minister John Ames, Home is largely set in the Boughton household, where Jack’s sister Glory has returned to care for their ailing father . . . In the early sections of Home, Robinson is intentionally stingy with the details of Jack’s and Glory’s history, and their tentativeness around each other is masterfully turned. So, too, are the conversations that Jack has with two town preachers about race. Their chatter around the dinner table is overtly polite, but a host of violent words—‘spindles,’ ‘slipped,’ ‘cut,’ ‘split’—spike Robinson’s description. Her command of the language on the sentence level is a magnificent thing to behold, and Home’s pleasure closely resemble those of Gilead . . . If Home is a lesser novel than Gilead, it still calls up the surpassing gracefulness of Robinson’s best writing, as well as its—there’s no better word—spirit.”—Mark Athitakis, Chicago Sun-Times

"Home offers such intricate characterizations, so many passages of surpassing wisdom and beauty, one yearns to quote page after page."—Joan Frank, San Francisco Chronicle

"Four years ago, Marilynne Robinson broke one of the longest creative silences in American fiction. Twenty-four years had elapsed since the publication of her ferocious first novel, the bone-hard, lake-cold, moon-lonely Housekeeping. People wondered if there would be a second. But Robinson is not one to let herself be rushed. Besides, new ideas were finding room in her imagination. When the second novel finally came—it was Gilead, as sweet-tempered a book as one can imagine—it was all but unrecognizable as the work of the same author. Now comes a third that manages to bridge the gulf between its predecessors. Home is set in the same Iowa town that gives Gilead its name, and amid the same circle of Protestant ministers' families, but it tests that world of piety and stability by forcing it to come to terms with a sense of existential orphanhood as absolute as any that haunts Housekeeping . . . [Robinson] rules her fictional domain with absolute authority. Of the soul, and its wanderings, and its struggles to find a way home, she is a modern master."—William Deresiewicz, The Nation

"Robinson returns to the 1950’s Iowa setting of her Pulitzer Prize–winning Gilead and ponders many of the same large questions of religion, remorse, and the odds of redemption. This time the story is a midwestern parable of the prodigal son, centered around three members of the Boughton family: ailing, aged Reverend Robert; his thirty-eight-year-old daughter Glory who has arrived to take care of him; and black sheep Jack who comes home after an absence of twenty years, penniless and, to a degree, penitent. Home may be a simple word, but Robinson makes clear the implicit irony—it’s never a simple place for adult offspring who dare to go back. Jack and Glory are thrown into a crucible of memory, misplaced hope, ghosts, and overgrown gardens. They attempt to cope with it all by turning to drink or to prayer, by tinkering with an old car, or trying to cook a perfect dumpling. And when all else fails, they fall back on good manners. This has always been Robinson’s great strength—her understanding that ritual and domestic detail are a form of salvation . . . The novel is absorbing and affecting and memorable because Robinson does let us see how to make that perfect dumpling. You drench it in a mix of sorrow and secret and truth, and stew it just to the point of heartbreak. Then, when you put it on the table, everyone sits up straight and eats politely. Maybe that’s all the redemption we need."—Suzanne Freeman, The Virginia Quarterly Review

"There is almost no first-rate American fiction about what happens in a household where religion is the family business, but if you ever wondered what it's like to be a preacher's kid, you can't do better than Home. Robinson's greatest achievement is that she manages to introduce the notions of belief and religious mystery without ever seeming vague. She never shies from uncomfortable truths. When Jack asks Glory why she hates Gilead and wants to leave, she says, 'Because it reminds me of when I was happy.' Fixing dinner, she 'wished that it mattered more that [she and her father and brother] loved one another. Or mattered less, since guilt and disappointment seemed to batten on love. Her father and brother were both laid low by grief, as if it were a sickness, and she had nothing better to offer them than chicken and dumplings.' This is a novel that builds its truth out of quotidian detail—the way Jack thumbs the felt on his hat brim, the way Glory thinks in Bible verses: watching Jack leave at the end of the book, she thinks, 'A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their face. Ah, Jack.' This is book full of sadness, but the greatest sadness on the reader's part is that it has to end. How genuinely mysterious is that?”—Newsweek

"As writers go, Robinson is among the superpowered. She moves easily in and out of minds that to a lesser writer would be solid and opaque, evoking their smallest, most intricate emotions with master-level eloquence . . . There are grand things in Home. Perfect things, even."—Lev Grossman, Time

"When Robinson's second novel, Gilead, came out in 2004, over two decades after her debut, Housekeeping (1980), not even the most godless reader dared to call it anything short of genius. The brilliant critic James Wood (author of 2003's The Book Against God, to keep things in perspective) wrote in The New York Times of Robinson's 'vivid slashes of poetry' and of her 'spiritual force that's very rare in contemporary fiction.' Rare to the vanishing point, I'd add. 'Imagine,' Robinson wrote in her essay collection The Death of Adam (1998), 'that someone failed and disgraced came back to his family, and they grieved with him, and took his sadness upon themselves, and sat down together to ponder the deep mysteries of human life. This is . . . human and beautiful . . . even if it yields no dulling of pain, no patching of injuries. Perhaps it is the calling of some families to console, because intractable grief is visited upon them.' This describes her new masterpiece, Home, in a hundred words or less . . . The first of many things to praise about Home is that it lays bare the folly of those who pretend there is nothing of value in the Bible. I can think of no other work, except Tobias Wolff's short story 'The Rich Brother,' that does  such incredible things with the parable of the Prodigal Son . . . There isn't a single character in Home who isn't so entirely, lovingly fleshed out that you expect to find him standing at your elbow, saying, 'Yes, it was exactly like that' . . . Marilynne Robinson's may be the most complex America I've read this year, with the roundest characters and the most precise and gorgeous prose."—Stephen Beck, The New Criterion

"Any novel from Marilynne Robinson arrives with a sense of the miraculous. More than two decades passed between the publication of her quietly earth-shattering debut, Housekeeping, a book that remains a modern classic, and its triumphant, expansive follow-up, Gilead, a Pulitzer Prize-winner in 2005. We can be grateful to not have to wait so long for Home, a slender but potent return to the same sleepy Iowa town of the mid-1950s, in which the winds of social change only occasionally whistle across the sunflower-filled prairie. A grace variation on the parable of the prodigal son, Home begins with the return of a daughter, the youngest of the right children of Robert Boughton, a former pastor . . . Then her brother Jack appears on the doorstep. A rogue from childhood, an incorrigible charmer as well as an alcoholic, Jack hasn't been home in 20 years, and the story line's emotional suspense hangs on both the legacy of his misdeeds—the fate of a child born out of wedlock; the identity of a mysterious woman who returns his letters unopened—and his pursuits of his father's forgiveness. As it turns out, it's Glory who understands Jack best, and their unexpected complicity forms the soul of this exquisite, often ruefully funny meditation on redemption. Whether comforting her father with pancakes at 3:00 a.m. or bathing her brother following a bender (in the novel's most haunting scene), Glory, like Robinson herself, finds wonderment in life's domesticities and daily rituals, the subtle moments of transcendence that go undetected by professional men of faith . . . For those willing to make the journey, Robinson has created a rich literary refuge."—Megan O'Grady, Vogue

"Marilynne Robinson writes masterpieces. Her work is astonishing, lucid, threaded with life's significant questions and a quiet, intelligent grace . . . Home entwines the themes of both Robinson's earlier novels, the transience of human life in Housekeeping and the spiritual rootedness of Gilead . . . We understand that through coming to love a transient, Robinson has captured for us the experience of a small, startling fragment of God's love, crafted ever so beautifully by her combination of faith and literary talent. Home ends on just the note a writer like Robinson wants: 'The Lord is wonderful.'"—Julie Brickman, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Robinson is an anomaly in the great tradition of American literature. One of [America's] few novelists at peace with religion . . . Gilead and Home will be a bright spot in our literary history."—Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

"A lyric meditation on family, forgiveness, and the possibility of redemption . . . A complex and lovely work."—Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post

"Marilynne Robinson published her first novel, Housekeeping, in 1980; it would be 24 years until her next one. In the meantime, she produced a critique of British nuclear-energy policy, and a collection of essays (The Death of Adam) that stands as a sturdy counterweight to the current wave of belligerent atheism. In Gilead, her Pulitzer Prize-winning return to fiction, she inhabited the austere voice of an aging Congregationalist pastor in 1956 Iowa. Now a mere four years later, she returns to the town of Gilead with Home. The two novels share a plot, but Home takes the perspective of Glory Boughton, the 38-year-old daughter of Gilead's retired Presbyterian minister. Glory has moved home to care for her father and, as it turns out, for her alcoholic older brother, Jack, the long-lost prodigal son. As with Gilead, the action is tiny, a series of daily chores and conversations made heavy by the weight of the past and by Robinson's near-miraculous attention to the intricate workings of conscience."—Ira Boudway, New York magazine

"The meaning of kindness is a recurring theme. Every time Glory does something for Jack, he responds, 'That's kind of you,' a phrase that increasingly carries more than politeness. We learn, with Jack and Glory, that kindness is a difficult virtue, a complex obligation between giver and receiver. Toward the end of the book, Jack's father, sick and tired, says in irritation that he doesn't have the strength for kindness anymore. 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. Another is the meaning of grace. If it is God's love, how does it manifest itself? Robinson answers both obliquely, in her loving embrace and deep respect for her saints and sinners. She renders the inner and outer workings of their lives not as painful fact, but as poetry bathed in the beauty of her language."—Brigitte Frase, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"A stunning reinterpretation of the parable of the prodigal son . . . Robinson's writing is subtle yet engrossing.  She takes a timeless story and turns it into an achingly personal odyssey . . . Extremely rewarding."—Chelsea Bauch, Time Out New York

Home takes up with the elderly and ailing Reverend Robert Boughton—neighbor and friend of Gilead’s narrator, the Reverend John Ames—and his daughter and wayward son. Animated by Robinson's quietly unassailable love for and faith in them, they rise off the page and grip us with the drama of their lives.”—Lisa Shea, Elle

"The finely honed language of Home reveals an artist at the peak of her powers."—Pat MacEnulty, The Charlotte Observer

"Robinson's authorial voice—sometimes as unstinting as an Old Testament prophet, sometimes as comforting as a beloved hymn—always has the ring of the gospel truth."—Gigi Lehman, The Miami Herald

"Masterful . . . Home is a quietly brilliant picture of small-town Protestant America of the 1950s, a quiet exploration of the contraditions in religion and societal or human nature."—Geeta Sharma-Jensen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"[Home] is that rare book (Gilead, her previous novel, is another) that treats religion and believers with neither condescension nor acclaim. The writer is knowledgeable about religious belief yet gives no hint of attempting to influence readers’ beliefs. Instead she presents each character as fully human, with flaws, good intentions and actions, anxieties and aspirations. And we come to care for each of them nearly as much as the writer does . . . Robinson’s mastery of voice and character keep us engaged and rapt by their struggles with belief and hope, their relationships with one another. The prose forces us to slow our reading, then holds us to the extent that we are disappointed that it ends. The care with which Robinson has created these characters is the care required to love those around us—both those we like and those we don’t. Yet she doesn’t set out to teach us that lesson; she simply creates good art."—Gordon Houser, The Wichita Eagle

"To the delight of her many fans, author Marilynne Robinson didn't wait two decades to publish her follow-up to her Pulitze prize-winning work Gilead. She returned to the scene of her most inspiring work in her latest book, Home, the story of the Boughton family and the return of the black sheep son, Jack . . . With her latest work, Robinson writes an incredibly intriguing story of what goes on next door to the Ames family when the prodigal son, Jack, returns home after twenty years away from the family . . . Readers of Gilead see the inner workings of what small towners always wonder, what is going on in the homes next door. The Boughton on the surface are the perfect family and, inside their homes, they are as well. All except for Jack, one of the more interesting characters in American literature. Jack is and always was a man who didn't fit in with the perfect image of the small town preacher's family. That in itself would make him a character to remember, albeit a predictable one. But Robinson takes a skeleton of the 'black sheep' and turns it on its head, creating a character that is as memorable as William Faulkner's Joe Christmas . . . Make no mistakes about it, Home is a great book. Marilynne Robinson is able to continue a story without seeming repetitive or sloppy. She is not returning to the town of Gilead to write Gilead, part 2. She is returning to Gilead to continue the story of a man who represents many of us. A man who doesn't see the value of his very being to everyone who loves him."—Ivy Farguheson, The Star Press (Muncie)

"The theme-and-variations relationship of Gilead and Home (but which is theme and which variation?) might seem, in theory, like an academic exercise, but in practice it is not. Robinson is a great technician, but technique is the starting-point of her writing, not its object, which is to write, gravely and with a humanity so carefully considered as to have the appearance of simplicity, about the errors, regrets and dire misunderstandings of human life: what can be forgiven and repaired, and what cannot. The cadences of her prose have a resonant authority more like that of great music than language. The effect is utterly haunting."—Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph (London)

"I must confess that rarely have I looked forward so eagerly to a new novel as I have to Marilynne Robinson's Home . . . . At first glance this seems an audacious undertaking, How can she set the same cast of characters in the same small, dull Iowa town in almost exactly the same span of time and expect to make a second novel that engages her readers? Yet Robinson does engage us and enlightens us about the power of place, the paradoxical nature of home, the complexity of relationships between parents and children and between siblings, the mystery of good and evil, the wrestling of unbelief with belief, and finally, the wonder of love and grace. She does it with the sheer power of her language and an imagination that provides marvelously subtle insights into the psyches of her characters . . . Does Home measure up to Gilead? I think it does—as a work of art . . . It is a fine companion piece to Gilead. Both novels move with a patient gentleness; both are inhabited by characters one would like to have as friends; and both evoke a sense of wonder (and sometimes fear) about the deep joys and sorrows at the core of human existence."—David Schelhaas, Emeritus Professor of English at Dordt College, Pro Rege

"Told through the eyes of a middle-aged spinster named Glory Boughton, Marilynne Robinson’s Home is a challenging story played out in a Midwestern kitchen, involving heavy doses of theological discourse. However, while the scenes all take place in the kitchen and area surrounding the Boughton residence in Iowa, Home is anything but a domestic drama. As in real family life, all the tension lies beneath the surface, where expectations and stubborn refusal to change can lead to despair. Robinson introduced the characters of the Boughton family in her previous novel, Gilead, which focused on the elderly Reverend Ames and his reminiscences told to his young son. Meditative in tone, Gilead charts the history of the town and Ames’ position in it. The characters of the Boughton family lurk in the background, introduced, but not completely realized. In Home, the story of the tangled family of Ames’s best friend and fellow reverend, Robert Boughton, emerges from the tangential threads of Gilead. Filled with despondency over a failed love affair, Glory Boughton has come home to Gilead to care for her ailing father. The tedium of her life is alleviated by the appearance of her brother Jack, who returns after a twenty-year absence, ostensibly to assist the family and make amends to his father. After a somewhat abrupt departure from home following the birth of his illegitimate child, Jack has been incommunicado all this time, not even appearing for his mother’s funeral. Robinson’s characters represent archetypes; Jack and Robert Boughton, for example, play out the universal Oedipal conflict between returning prodigal son and demanding father. This is a common theme in literature, but Robinson succeeds in digging beneath the surface to reveal the historical reasons why different generations can fail to connect. Events are played out in the early 1960s, when segregation was the status quo and most Americans were intolerant of anything that challenged authority. Reverend Boughton’s frequent recitations of Christian tracts and the religious underpinning of the family are awesome in their depth and cerebral intensity, yet ultimately hypocritical. Although his theology is grounded in the enlightened thinking of Transcendentalists and their abolitionist beliefs, Boughton observes the beating of civil rights demonstrators with indifference. He even argues with Jack that civil disobedience is wrong. Jack seems mesmerized by the events, and we later learn why he might have so much emotional investment. While the obvious protagonist may be Jack, it is ultimately Glory who emerges from the sidelines, providing the emotional resonance that allows us to comprehend this sad story; her faith and love prevent the tone from becoming overly morbid . . . Glory is as complex as her father and brother, making her the perfect observer of the events that unfold. She simply applies the principles of her upbringing to the task: 'Glory’s view of things had an authority for them precisely because it was naïve.' Glory also serves brilliantly as a lens on this world because she suffers from rampant male arrogance and sexism: 'She seemed always to have known that, to their father’s mind, the world’s great work was the business of men . . . They were the stewards of ultimate things. Women were creatures of second rank, however pious, however beloved, however honored.' Like women before her, Glory puts her personal disappointment aside for the sake of her father and brother. Still, Robinson makes evident the depths of her hurt at not being regarded as importantly as her male kin: 'None of this had mattered much through all the years of her studies and teaching, but now, in the middle of any night, it was part of the loneliness she felt, as if the sense that everything could have been otherwise were a palpable darkness.' It would seem that the novel is headed toward a grim conclusion: both father and son want the other to change, and when it does not happen, it leads to the end of the relationship. It is up to Glory to make sense of the shambles. As her father becomes frailer, Glory must also witness Jack’s withdrawal and final exit from home. Realizing that she will probably never see Jack again, she understands that she will most likely remain in Gilead for the rest of her life, accepting a largely unfulfilled existence. However, Glory does not despair; she sees herself as a conduit through which the positive characteristics of the Boughton clan will pass, promising Jack that she will keep the Boughton home intact for the rest of the family. Finally, it is Glory who patiently looks for optimism in the next generation when, after meeting Jack’s bi-racial son, she imagines him returning to a changed Gilead as an adult and thinks, 'He cannot know that my whole life has come down to this moment.'"—Jill Stegman, Rain Taxi

"Marilynne Robinson is, above all else, a novelist of transfigured reality. In her fiction, the everyday is made eternal through humble, reverent attention to places and people. Robinson's novels and essays, deeply influenced by her Calvinist reading of theology, reveal a world freighted with God's presence . . . She is a master of what the Russian formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky called defamiliarization: the making strange of the world through careful perception . . . Robinson's latest novel, Home, continues to bear witness to the strangeness of the world, but in an altogether different key. It is written in the third person, a bold departure for a writer who convincingly inhabited first-person narrators in her previous novels . . . Another daring choice is to make the events, place, and characters of Home overlap with those of Gilead . . . The narrative is focused through the perspective of Glory Boughton, Reverend Boughton's youngest daughter. To address the theological issues that Robinson finds most pressing—grace, predestination, the sacraments—from a layperson's perspective is another challenge Robinson confronts and masterfully surmounts in Home . . . Jack's strangeness and estrangement are one of the novel's central motifs. Early in childhood, Glory angrily demands of Jack, 'What gives you the right to be so strange?' This innocent question gives rise to the main question of the novel: Why is Jack so strange, and what does his strangeness demand of those who love him? While Home most obviously parallels the biblical story of the Prodigal Son, it also recalls another story of homecoming, the Odyssey. Like Homer's epic, Robinson's novel is concerned with hospitality, with the giving of care to the exile and the stranger . . . Robinson's prose remains remarkable in its attention to sensual detail and philosophical depth . . . Early in the novel, Glory looks at an oak tree in the front yard: 'There was a torsion in its body that made it look like a giant dervish to them. Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread its arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa.' Like Glory, the reader is forced to see the oak anew, to appreciate its history and its posture of frozen motion. The novel's second half is particularly breathtaking . . . The writing—with its biblical cadences and its Lear-like vision of 'unclothed' humanity, its unembarrassed evocation of the detail of charity coupled with its acknowledgment that this ideal cannot heal all wounds—is simultaneously chastening and nourishing. What, in the end, gives Jack the right to be so strange? Home argues that it is simply his divine existence, the holy spark that belongs to him despite his weakness and cruelty . . . Robinson knows that the godly nature of men like Jack does not lessen the pain they cause. It does, however, require that we attend to them, that we minister to them, and that we try to forgive them. This—the task of accommodating, of comforting, and of caring—is what hospitality, and Home, are all about."—Anthony Domestico, Commonweal

"Robinson concentrates on the subtle tensions in a family that talks to one another lovingly, but ultimately, insufficiently. This is the kind of novel that would make a good French film. But American novel readers looking for pyrotechnics and fast-pace drama should look elsewhere. Most of the drama here is in the negative space, which Robinson fills with exquisitely rendered prose."—Tracey O'Shaughnessy, Republican-American

"From one of our best living writers, this novel about the return of a prodigal son offers a rare pleasure: a page-turner that's also profound. Robinson's exploration of the meaning of family is so deep that even the furniture seems significant."—Deb Schwartz, Domino

"Robinson won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel Gilead. Here, she returns to those characters, in a story of the prodigal son. Home is a story of family, father and son, brother, and sister. Glory and Jack need to be able to share their stories with each other, and slowly they do. Robert and Jack find new common ground, reflecting son with his father, but also what happens after the fatted calf is eaten, and father and son find a gap in their lives, experiences and expectations. A wonderful story; slow paced, emotionally moving. Robinson is a spectacular writer, and the dichotomy of the two novels shows her range in handling family relationships, over the generations and within one."—Sacramento Book Review

"Home returns to the characters and the mid-'50s Iowa town depicted in Robinson's 2004 Pulitzer-winning Gilead. Jack Boughton, 41, is the sin-sick soul returning after a 20-year absence to the house where his father is dying. Jack has been living in the Jim Crow South, a witness. And he's fallen in love with a black woman. The novel can be read as a family story about love and death, about shame and forgiveness; yet it's also a meditation on the American concept of a Christian life, and a hymn, a sacred song that bears its readers to a glorious place. But you don't have to be righteous or holy to ride this train."—Jon Garelick, The Phoenix (Boston)

"Not a sequel nor a prequel, Home eerily chronicles the same events as Gilead, but this time told from the perspective of Glory as she muddles through the drama of her brother's sudden reappearance . . . Jack's story is the center of Home, but even here, he remains an elusive, maddening character. Glory sees him as a lost soul in need of gentle care, and much of the novel is a sensitively detailed rendering of their deepening connection . . . It is a remarkable achievement that in two consecutive novels, Marilynne Robinson has used the town as a prism to examine themes at the heart of American experience: white Americans' culpability for slavery and its aftereffects, and a sophisticated theology of salvation and grace."—Angie Drobnic Holan, St. Petersburg Times

"Marilynne Robinson's third novel, Home, is, simply, a brilliant meditation on history and familial relationships, forgiveness and grace, wrought by one of our country's best writers. Readers of her previous novel, Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize, will recognize the place: the small town of Gilead, Iowa. And the characters: Home takes place, almost exclusively, in the house of former pastor Robert Boughton, close friend of John Ames, who narrated Gilead. But Home is no sequel, and the pair can at most be called companion novels; one needs not have read one to enjoy the wealth offered by the other. The plots of Robinson's books are refreshingly simple, and one senses that they are deliberately so in order to examine the significance of moments usually overlooked . . . Robinson writes with such acuity on matters of the heart and on the difficulty of human forgiveness that one feels she's articulating the way every family keeps illusions going, how it's sometimes easier to maintain the appearance of a good gracious family than to, in fact, be one."—Cheston Knapp, Richmond Times-Dispatch

"I was very pleased indeed to return to the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, in the company of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and UI Writers’ Workshop faculty member Marilynne Robinson. Her new novel, Home, is a companion—not a sequel nor a prequel—to Gilead. It features the same core characters and the narrative is concurrent with that of the previous novel. Home is centered on the family of the Reverend Robert Boughton. Readers of Gilead will remember both him and his troubled son Jack, a character who seems to try the faith and patience, but also to inspire the love and pity, of those around him. In Home, Jack moves from the supporting role he played in Gilead to center stage. Robinson skillfully delves into Jack’s struggles with family, faith, and issues roiling mid-20th century America. His sister Glory, who has struggles of her own, is also a beautifully drawn character and the tentative, hopeful relationship between the siblings that grows in fits and starts is poignant. Gilead and Home establish Robinson as perhaps the finest contemporary writer examining issues of faith and the Christian faithful. The collision of belief and unbelief, of living up to one’s faith and failing to do so, of seeking personal redemption and the redemption of a loved one is handled with sensitivity and grace. Robinson’s prose asks the reader to slow down and to enter with her into a small town in a different time. Though Home is filled with wrenching emotional moments and difficult questions of great significance, it is also welcoming."—Rob Cline, The Iowa Source

"Remember Robert Frost's haunting evocation of home as 'the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in'? The word 'home' is title, subject and even the first word of Marilynne Robinson's meditative new novel, and in it she explores what it means to return home when you're out of options. She accomplishes this by recasting the parable of the prodigal son . . . Robinson uses her considerable talents to elucidate her religious belief that love is neither earned nor deserved."—Barbara Liss, The Houston Chronicle

"The power of Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead lay in the way it registered the pressures of historical change even as it celebrated simple, persistent virtues. In the Rev. John Ames, Robinson portrayed a decent, pious man who loved the world easily but feared the bad influence of his best friend's reckless son, Jack Boughton. Home revisits the same Iowa setting and the same two neighboring families, but by shifting the point of view to Jack's sister Glory, the novel achieves a remarkable, subtle rereading of those previous themes. As the new book opens, Glory Boughton has recently returned to Gilead to take care of her widower father, and Jack is set to return for the first time in 20 years. Estranged in his own home since childhood, Jack brings with him a wagonload of midlife problems, from alcoholism and an inability to settle into a job to a romantic relationship whose contours remain mysterious and yet utterly central to the book's larger purpose. For all the pain he causes his family, and for all his struggles to understand himself, Jack remains lovable and very much loved. His aging father is giddy at his return. Most of the story unfolds in dinner-table scenes, in conversations on the porch or above a game of checkers, and out among the commotion-free activity of a small farm in 1950s America. The Boughtons get their first TV, and images of the larger world filter in, revealing race tensions in Alabama and Cold War problems abroad. But these are tuned out, seemingly, by the quiet rhythms of rural life and a flip of the television switch. It would give too much away to say why this peace is an illusion. Suffice it to say, Robinson expertly understates the devastating power of racism in the story. As slavery and Civil War trailed the plot lines of Gilead, segregation is very much in the bloodlines of Home. Jack is out of place in his own home not because he doesn't love his father or his siblings but because he suffocates in an atmosphere of older virtues, in which discretion and 'fealty to kin' are primary, and honor is the real lifeblood of piety. Restless in Gilead, Jack tries to honor the power of primal connections: he defers to his father, takes his turn saying grace and talks himself into attending church, but he cannot experience these connections as 'home.' In this way, he is as quietly tragic as, in Gilead, Ames was quietly triumphant. It is Glory rather than Jack who registers the full range of these competing instincts toward flight and stability. For Glory does feel nourished in Gilead, and to counter her grief she is able to do what her mother did — to cook 'something fragrant,' for example, to fill the house with the aroma of comfort, which is real and profound in its own way but also melancholy. For Glory, coming home has been a confession of her own disappointments. She has returned because she has nothing else to keep her away. Manipulated in a bad romance that she lies about to her father, she experiences home as a place where you feel shame as well as calm. 'What kinder place could there be on earth,' she reflects, 'and why did it seem to them all like exile?' Robinson captures this tension here with her customary grace and power. Home is a beautiful book, told slow as the prairie, worth every elongated hour."—Todd Shy, The Mercury News

"Marilynne Robinson's fascinating our imaginations inside several memory-cramped family houses. In her aptly titled Home, Jack Boughton, the prodigal son of an aging paterfamilias, returns after 20 years to love with his sister Glory and their dying father. Those who loved Robinson's Pulitzer-winning novel, Gilead, will notice immediately that Home is set in the same Iowa town, and that the Reverend John Ames, the center of that story, lingers notably along the borders of this one. He is the elder namesake, and Jack's tattered soul will become his to battle and repair. As claustrophobic as Robinson's situations can be, her prose is our flight out, a keen instrument of vision and transcendence. The book is told from the perspective of Glory, so this language is given a compelling personal voice. Through her we are able to see Jack: 'the one true worldling in the whole tribe of Boughtons . . . standing there in the sunlight with the wind hushing in the dusty lilacs of their childhood . . . He looked older in sunlight.' While the men work our their splintery emotions, the wisdom and grace of the book resides in the quiet voice of the woman who loves them."—Vince Passaro, O, The Oprah Magazine

“The prose is beautiful . . . Robinson does an expert job of portraying the natural difficulty that estranged members of a family have in opening up to each other . . . The scripture-infused prose soars, just as it did in Gilead, and there are many moving moments in which the characters bare their hearts to each other, such as when Boughton reflects on what anguish Jack's bad ways and absence caused him . . . Gilead was a quiet novel and Home is even further hushed, but in the end shares in its predecessor's redemptive grace.”—Jenny Shank, The Rocky Mountain News

"Home functions as a stand-alone novel, but it recounts from a different perspective the same events recorded in the novel Gilead. Here the story centers on the Boughton family and tells of Gloria Boughton, who has come home to take care of her elderly father—he's a pastor and the lifelong friend of John Ames, Gilead's central character. When Jack Boughton, the black sheep son, comes home after a 20-year absence, the story follows the tentative dance between father and son and sister and brother as they remember old hurts and past happiness, and are forced to think about the contours of faith and what binds them together. Robinson creates characters who authentically reflect their Presbyterian roots, displaying grace and fallenness at the same time."—Susan Olasky, World magazine

"What is Jack Boughton really like? How will he respond to Reverend Ames's blessing as he gets on the bus to leave Gilead again? Will he embrace the grace and forgiveness of the blessing? Or will he return to his old ways? Questions like these have run through the minds of readers of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead when I've led book discussions with students, laity and clergy over the past four years. Some people fervently believe that Jack will turn a new leaf; they are hoping against hope that people do change and are transformed by grace . . . Gilead readers will be delighted to discover that Robinson's new novel, Home, returns to 1950s Gilead, this time focusing on the Boughton household and the interactions of Jack, his sister Glory and their father. Like Gilead, it is a story told in beautiful prose, with astute theological insights and finely drawn characters. In Home as in Gilead John Ames and Robert Boughton are pastors who embody grace as well as perseverance, and the contours of their lifelong friendship are portrayed with subtle beauty. We also rediscover the complexities of Jack Boughton's life—the child he abandoned, the long stretches of time in which he had no contact with his family, his tendency to be a loner, the ways in which he's been 'a wound in his father's heart.' Home's story fills out Jack's character. We learn more about him in his conversations with his sister and father . . . Robinson's latest novel has given me new perspective on Jack, Reverend Ames and the complexities and beauty of family, forgiveness, home and healing. Now I am imagining what the story looks like from a neighbor of both the Ameses and the Boughtons. We can hope that Robinson will return us to Gilead one more time."—L. Gregory Jones, The Christian Century

"Returning home is a familiar trope in world literature. From Homer's epic Odyssey to the more contemporary writings of Tom Wolfe or Jhumpa Lahiri, returning home is a symbolic movement through space and time. The concept of home is especially salient within feminist discourse. Here, it can be a source of power or a place of confinement. For Marilynne Robinson, it is both. In her latest novel, Robinson provides fertile ground for ruminations on the subject. Written as a companion to her Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead, Home returns to the rural town of the preacher John Ames. This time around, Robinson focuses on the home of Reverend Robert Boughton, a longtime companion of Ames, and chooses to revisit the town through the eyes of Glory Boughton, who is returning to Gilead to care for her ailing father. Thirty-eight years old, unmarried (unbeknown to her family), and without a job, Glory occupies the domestic space of her childhood assuming the role of both mother and daughter. As she balances taking care of her father’s daily needs with adjusting to her reckless brother’s return home as well, Glory finds herself completely unsettled in an all-too-familiar backdrop: 'What does it mean to come home?' Home explores the patrofilial dynamics of the Boughton family. Jack, Glory's brother and the Reverend Boughton's prodigal son, comes back after twenty years. Known to the town as an alcoholic and a petty thief, he is unable to connect with anyone but his sister, who is willing to tiptoe through their relationship to preserve the sacred link between father and son. In a book laden with theology, the author does not lose sight of women's absence from the church. For Glory, this extends into her relationship with her father. One night, after exchanging words with Jack, she watches as her father regards 'him with such sad tenderness that she wished she could will herself out of existence, herself and every word she had ever said.' Using Glory as the protagonist, Robinson critically examines the relationship of the father and son, nuancing its links to Christian scripture. Despite the invisibility that shrouds Glory, Robinson skillfully paints a female protagonist who maintains agency throughout. It is Glory who chooses to return to a home in which she could never be as valued as her brother, or as close to God as her father. It is Glory who chooses to study the bible piously, praying on her knees every night. Robinson shows the reader that Glory never had the privilege to be reckless in the way her brother did, and though she suffers from the consequences of patriarchy, she never allows herself to be a victim. She returns to the home of her childhood and thrives in a place halfway between the past and the present. In the final pages of the book, Glory imagines Jack's son returning years later to the home that she has preserved: 'He will talk to me a little while, too shy to tell me why he has come, and then he will thank me and leave, walking backward a few steps, thinking, Yes, the barn is still there, yes, the lilacs, even the pot of petunias. This was my father’s house. And I will think, He is young. He cannot know that my whole life has come down to this moment. That he answered his father’s prayers. The Lord is wonderful.' Another prodigal son is born."—Lizzy Shramko, Feminist Review

“For Marilynne Robinson, crafting a novel is a way to consider both the work of divinity and that of human obligation. The word craft has for her its Old English meaning—strength—and is intended to be not merely painstaking but expressive of understanding. The odd beauty attained by Home, its method of fitting together with her Pulitzer Prize–winning previous novel, Gilead (2004), the moral discoveries that her characters seem almost to demand of themselves—these are in fact also matters of craft and can be studied in the lathing of the novel’s planks, the jointures of its corners. In conceiving Home, Robinson set herself a problem one might have thought insurmountable, and the way she surmounts it turns out to be crucial to the book’s meaning, as well as to be one of its great pleasures. Home and Gilead take place in the same town, with the same characters; even the time frames correlate precisely. Gilead’s first-person narrator, the aging Reverend John Ames—a diagnosis of a failing heart having brought him into closer contemplation of death—writes a series of meditations addressed to his young son. Ames has a boon companion, known to him since prams and short pants, who is the Presbyterian minister of Gilead, Iowa (in Gilead, Ames refers most often to John Calvin), and this is the Reverend Robert Boughton, in all ways a contrast—his family copious and ebullient from the beginning, while Ames has long been solitary and austere. Boughton, too, is unwell in his late age, and two of his children return to care for him. Home is set among the Boughtons and told in a watchful third person; its primary characters are these adult children, Glory and Jack, and its perspective is Glory’s. Robinson’s challenge, then, was to find a new way to recount the story of these characters and their interactions through the eyes of a woman with sorrows of her own . . . Robinson moves beautifully into and out of Glory’s thoughts; indeed, she works almost as if Glory were a first-person subject. We never enter the mind of another character, but from dialogue we can guess at the changes in their thoughts. The limited third person may express a kind of conviction on Robinson’s part; certainly, it accords with Glory’s heart-laboring attempt to see into the lives of others. In this, Glory is more like a novelist than either of Robinson’s two previous narrators. Both Ames and Ruth, the narrator of Housekeeping, look back to see how they have been marked by losing members of their families; they are concerned with the past, the near past of childhood, in one case, and the deep past of the Civil War in Gilead. Home is more resolutely engaged with its own time and with the future . . . All Robinson’s craft is on display: the fine touch for dialogue, how each character observes in the way natural to himself or herself, and the interrogatory prose that separates out the fibers of thought and makes of them botanical slides into which one peers deeper still . . . At the beginning of Home, Glory studies in their front yard the old oak that had in all her memory ‘flung its imponderable branches out over the road and across the yard, branches whose girths were greater than the trunk of any ordinary tree. There was a torsion in its body that made it look like a giant dervish to them. Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread its arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa.’ In its torsion and imponderability, the oak, like Robinson’s twined novels, argues for the importance of both what we can and what we cannot know. An author, like a carpenter, works with hewn and sawn material but loves the tree that is the greater work.”—Rachel Cohen, Bookforum

"Home, Marilynne Robinson's companion novel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, illuminates the family of Reverend Robert Boughton in the 1950s, as two of his adult children—the wayward, elusive Jack and the quiet, dignified Glory—return to Gilead, Iowa. In her signature language, evanescent yet elegant, Robinson crafts a story about familial love and repentance . . . Robinson, one of America's most quietly thrilling novelists, paints a serene Iowa landscape (vegetable gardens, sabbath dinners and vine-covered porches), which contrasts with Glory's memories of Jack, her father's ancient anger and her struggle to make peace with two men who have kept her on the edges of their orbits."—Susan Straight, More magazine

"Summary and compression cannot come close to capturing the moment-by-moment beauty of Marilynne Robinson's third novel, Home. It is a novel that unfolds slowly in hushed, carefully observed scenes whose disquieting emotional import vaults off the page. Its power is as much spiritual as literary. And its cumulative impact has as much to do with the pain of misunderstanding that exists among its three main characters as the love that seeks to bridge those misunderstandings . . . Home offers a deeper, richer, more compassionate view of the sometimes charming and frequently discomfiting Jack Boughton. The new novel is told from the perspective of Glory Boughton, the youngest Boughton child, who at 38 years old returns to Gilead to care for her dying father after her own wounding failures in life and love. When her older brother Jack shows up after a 20-year absence, the two struggle to make peace with their pasts, with each other and with their father. Jack, one of the most unsettling characters in recent fiction, is haunted by a kind of spiritual emptiness . . . In fact, the trouble this prodigal son creates is palpable, but in Robinson's inspired telling, it also moves us to empathy. This makes Home a more excruciating but no less beautiful or rewarding read than its predecessor, Gilead."—Alden Mudge, Bookpage

"To my mind, Robinson is the best modern American novelist; better than bloody Cormac McCarthy, better than all those writers about people who grow up knowing their Bible and their neighbors."—Reese Vaughn, Victoria Advocate

"A companion volume to Robinson's luminous, Pulitzer-winning novel Gilead. The focus here shifts from John Ames, Gilead's memorable protagonist, to his lifelong best friend Robert Boughton. A widowed, increasingly frail and distracted former Presbyterian minister, Boughton has eight children scattered across the country. The story unfolds after two of them come home to Gilead, Iowa: Glory, the unmarried youngest, who has resigned her teaching job so she can care for Robert; and ne'er-do-well Jack, who for 20 years has repeatedly broken his father's indulgent heart with his irresponsible, sometimes criminal behavior and—worse—his absence. 'Why did he leave? Where had he gone? Those questions had hung in the air,' Glory thinks, 'while everyone tried to ignore them, had tried to act as if their own lives were of sufficient interest.' Robinson builds subtle sequences of questions and answers, hesitant attempts at bonding and sorrowful revelations articulated among the three reunited Boughtons as they edge toward, then shy away from accusation and confrontation, feeling their way toward the possibility of forgiveness and healing. This is an inordinately quiet novel, and the patience with which even its most arresting effects are calculated and achieved requires an equal patience on the reader's part. There is, as there is in the life of every family, considerable repetition. It's necessary, as Robinson shows us the complexity and richness of Glory's stoical, though scarcely saintly resilience, of Jack's arduous progression toward genuine maturity, and of their father's seemingly naive, in fact almost visionary forbearance. The result is a compassionate envisioning of singularity and commonality reminiscent of the most soulful and moving work of Willa Cather, William Maxwell and James Agee. Comes astonishingly close to matching its amazing predecessor in beauty and power."—Kirkus Reviews

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Work in Progress » Blog Archive » Marilynne Robinson: When I Was a Child I Read Books
Marilynne Robinson is the author of the novels Housekeeping (FSG, 1981), Gilead (FSG, 2004), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Home (FSG, 2008), and three books of nonfiction, Mother Country (FSG, 1989), The Death of Adam (1998) and Absence of Mind (2010).


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"Home to stay, Glory! Yes!" her father said, and her heart sank. He attempted a twinkle of joy at this thought, but his eyes were damp with commiseration. "To stay for a while this time!" he amended, and took her bag from her, first shifting his cane to his weaker hand. Dear God, she thought, dear God in heaven. So began and ended all her prayers these days, which were really cries of amazement. How could her father be so frail? And how could he be so recklessly intent on satisfying his notions of gentlemanliness, hanging his cane on the railing of the stairs so he could, dear God, carry her bag
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  • Home by Marilynne Robinson--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt of Marilynne Robinson's novel Home. Hundreds of thousands were enthralled by the luminous voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Home is an entirely independent, deeply affecting novel that takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames's closest friend. Glory Boughton, aged thirty-eight, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Soon her brother, Jack--the prodiga



  • Marilynne Robinson

  • Marilynne Robinson is the author of the novels Gilead—winner of the Pulitzer Prize—and Housekeeping, and Home, and two books of nonfiction, Mother Country and The Death of Adam. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
  • Marilynne Robinson Kelly Ruth Winter
    Marilynne Robinson




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