Why You Should Read “Home” While You’re Stuck at Home

From Electric Lit:

If one thing will be irrevocably changed by the coronavirus pandemic, it is American’s sense of “home.” By the start of April, almost everyone in the country was under stay-at-home orders. Some estimates indicate that one in five Americans are currently unemployed. Primary and secondary schools are closed until next fall and colleges sent their students packing seemingly overnight. Still others are unable to go home at all, working essential jobs, stranded overseas, or split from their loved ones by brutal immigration restrictions that have only expanded under the pretense of the virus. Like never before, the pandemic has forced us to confront what it means to be home in America, and, ultimately, who in America is able to call this country home.

Coincidentally, the day my office announced its indefinite closure because of the pandemic, I opened a book I had long tried and failed to read: Marilynne Robinson’s Home, her third novel and the second in her soon-to-be-quartet based in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa in the 1950s. This reticence wasn’t due to lack of zeal, as I love Robinson’s work, but because she is a writer who requires immense patience. Her prose is not difficult; in the Gilead sequence, in fact, it is exceedingly simple, almost crystalline. Yet, her language seems to unfold like the layers of a flower, revealing with a slow, measured grace its buried workings. If you don’t take the time to study it and dwell within it, its meaning escapes you, like a dream. And if I saw anything before me as quarantine began, it was––precariously so––time.

In one of the most beautiful passages of Homecoming, Robinson’s first novel, the narrator wonders, “[W]hy do our thoughts turn to some gesture of a hand, some corner of a room on a particular anonymous afternoon… What are all these fragments for, if not to be knit up finally?” Home moves like this, through intimate, almost mundane gestures whose meanings only bloom the longer the book is read, until they become heartbreaking, miraculous, glittering. It tells the story of Glory Boughton, who returns to Gilead to tend to her dying father, and the subsequent return of her brother Jack, who has been absent for some twenty years and now seeks to make peace with a haunted past.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit