Okay. I am ready to declare myself a Marilynne Robinson fanatic. After the awesomeness that was Gilead, I was more than prepared to be disappointed by her follow-up, Home. Instead, I found Home to be as beautiful and insightful as its predecessor. Marilynne Robinson is truly a master of fiction. Home takes place at the exact same time as Gilead. This time around, we're catching up with the Boughton family, the patriarch of which is Gilead protagonist John Ames's best friend. This is the other side of the story, the story of the family that Ames tries to understand but often fails to see clearly.
It is my belief that there are occasions in our lives where what we read affects us solely based on the time that we read it. I think Home is a book that reads wonderfully at anytime, but my love of this first reading probably had more to do with how much I understood it at a certain moment in my own life. It's a book for anyone who's ever been a sibling, and even more so a book for anyone who's ever had a sibling to worry over, a sibling who you want so badly to understand but never quite can. It's a book about being able to simultaneously succeed and fail at reaching out to another. It's also a book for anyone who has been surprised by life, disappointed at how it's turned out or pleasantly amused by its small moments of grace. It's a book about coming home, about family, about faith. Home is a masterpiece of quiet observation, just as all of Robinson's novels are.
I am not a particularly religious sort. I don't always know how I feel about the idea of God's existence or His absence. But I understand belief, the certitude of some form of spirituality, and I have a deep appreciation for those moments our beliefs (whatever they may be) don't seem to be enough, or sometimes, when they seem to be too much. No matter how you feel about religion or spirituality, it's not okay to disclaim those that want the grace of it so badly. You can dislike religious hypocrites or those who use their beliefs to allow hatred, but you have to appreciate the quiet believer, the one who lets it guide him or her without intrusion towards others. These are the characters of Robinson's books: people who either feel or misunderstand or struggle with the idea of grace and love. She doesn't treat them with disdain, but she doesn't portray them as saints either. Robinson's characters are always good and bad, deeply faulted but trying so hard to do good. Just the way most of the people we meet are, religious or not. Robinson understands people and families and small towns in a way few writers can. I love her for it.