After 20 years of disappearance, Jack Boughton is coming back to his home. Reverend Boughton( now retired and spending his last days) is in anticipation of his arrival. The youngest daughter Glory is home to take care of the ailing father, after the death of their mother. As each of the inhabitants trying to work their solve own riddle of life, amongst each other, a beautifully woven tale of highly moving, emotional discovery of individuals unwrap. The mid 50s of Iowa, a all white town, as is expected the kids grow up and find their own ways, trying to find their own address and standing in the society. Reverend Boughton is now retired, living alone after the death of his wife. Glory, a graduate and high school English teacher, return home to take care of him. The 'prodigal son' Jack, 5 years to her senior, has dropped a letter informing of his arrival. His dubious past, his troubled childhood, the notoriety around his name in the town makes him a suspicious guest. He too, is uncertain of his welcome, and seems to have postponed his arrival couple of times. However, comes he for sure like a spoilt child wanting attention. Over the days of his stay, trying to bring himself up , loosing his way in between, the trio tries to settle to a routine. Jack find himself occupied in the back yard and with the old car needing repair, as Glory take over the house scores taking care of the elderly gentlemen and old man himself being assisted in and out of his sleep and tiredness.
Jack, the central character of the book, demands closure look. His past is bad and dangerous. He had to leave town under mysterious circumstances. He knows his reputation in the town, and is over conscious of his appearance, to the family, neighbors and the society. We also, realise later that he is now married to a 'colored women' and have a son. A possibility of returning to his home town ( an all white neighborhood) with his new wife and son, could also a potential agenda in his short visit. However, the ghost out of the closet are his own past which has to be closed and buried. The irreparable damage is done to self. Return back to your family or your surroundings for solace, to erase all the bad memories, to find peace with ones past, to surrender to your guilt . Its a trust, a belief that gets you going, but you are always unsure of yourself. Unsure of your integration to the new surrounding, to the old memories that haunts you, your dubious existence. Jack continue to struggle with this. The feeling of "Unsure" about his life. Trying to reconcile with Ames ( the neighbor), with his father and with himself. Despite his attempt, the help of his sister, and the elegant , matured approach of his father he still fails to conquer his self, succumbing to self doubt and old habits.
Glory is fighting her own battle. A recent devastation of a break-up in the relationship. The job as a teacher is non-existent and at an age of 38, she has to find new meaning to her own life. The task of tending to her ailing father was the time to regroup herself. Little did she realised that she will have to tend to two disturbed souls. The little sister/ small kid grow up to a motherly role, to take care of the men, as well as running the house.
Reverent Boughton, is nearing his last days, and have lived with the love and worries about his most notorious son. Despite his difficulties, Rev Boughton, thought this son of his needs maximum attention and care. He continue to have hopes on him, until the last moment. It's as though he was waiting for this return after 20 years, preparing himself. A son, who seek forgiveness, reconciliation and sympathy over everything else. He shares the guilt of his sone, for his own reasons.
The book is around these three characters, their inner conflict to come to terms with themselves and each other. Marilynne Robinson, on her part made these subtle nuances of internal struggle brilliantly. Each of the participants live to the fullest extend of their characters, living their bleeding life, trying to mend themselves with the world. While it is a brilliant story, emotional , absorbing , it might have carried that too long. At times, one get a feeling of deja vu, the predictable. In the end you are left with a feeling of having read a good story.
I haven't any other books of this writer. I understand the book could have links to her acclaimed Gilead. Not sure of the connection, but in itself, this book is complete. There are many moving passages, writing is impeccable. The beautiful undercurrent of Christianity, without hindering to the flow of the narration. Even the pages where Jack argues with his father and Ames ( two ministers with Church) on the pre-destiny of his life, I found she was in control of her writing. There are no short comings per se, but I did not experience anything beyond a beautifully told story.--------------------------------------------
Home ( 2008)
Guardian, NY Times