Maybe great sorrow or guilt is simply to be accepted as absolute, like revelation. My iniquity/punishment is greater than I can bear. In the Hebrew, her father said, that one word had two meanings and we chose one of them, which may make it harder for us to understand why the Lord would have pardoned Cain and protected him, and let him go on with his life, marry, have a son, build a city. His crime was his punishment, which had to mean he wasn’t such a villain after all. She might mention this to Jack sometime, if it ever seemed to her a conversation had arrived at a point where she could dare, could summon delicacy enough, to compare him to Cain. She laughed at herself. What a thought.
When I completed the last book on the Pulitzer Project reading list, I wanted to keep the project going just a little bit longer. So I created another reading list of books that were finalists in years the Pulitzer Prize wasn’t awarded, books that are part of the same series as a Pulitzer-winner, prequels and sequels to winners, books that are merely tangentially related to winners, and/or just books that are by Prize-winning authors I liked the most.
When I read Marilynne Robinson’s 2005 Pulitzer-winning novel, Gilead, it instantly became my all-time favorite novel. I was so enamored with her writing, with her characters, the story. It’s a book that I’ve often wanted to revisit to see if it still holds that connection with me. In fact, it was one of the books that spurred me on to take on the Pulitzer Project. So I was delighted to learn that Gilead had a “sequel” (as it were) entitled Home; and even more delighted as I read it and found that it was every bit as great as its predecessor.
Home is the second installment in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead trilogy. I say that it’s a “sequel,” in that it’s a continuation of where Gilead left off (with Jack Boughton – a drunk, a thief, a man of disreputable character, problematic since his childhood – returns home to a dying father and his saintly sister Glory, who is the father’s caretaker, after 20 years of absence and silence). It is a classic retelling of the Prodigal Son parable (and a somber, evocative one at that) that finds Jack’s return, his struggle to rehabilitate himself and his relationships with his family, and the family’s struggle to move beyond painful memories and hurt feelings.
Robinson plays with the idea that family should be like an invisible paradise, that home should be the place one can always return to, a safe haven to mend before heading back into the world. But she does so in a way that recognizes that reality is much more complicated than that. That recognizes that no family, no home is immune from the human condition – resentment, bitterness, jealousy, inability to move on and forgive both one another and oneself. And Robinson – masterful writer that she is – adeptly juxtaposes these feelings in a way that makes the reader really experience the discomfort that each character experiences.
I must admit that reading Home had a profoundly bittersweet effect on me. Returning “home” to family has been a recurring thing my whole life. I wrote about this in my reaction to A Summons to Memphis, as well, when I returned home to my grandparents and reconnected with them; several years later, my relationship with my grandparents has never been better and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to restore it.