Marilynne Robinson’s fine novel explores a question that I’ve sometimes pondered. After all the excitement of the return of the Prodigal Son, what happened next? Once they’d eaten the fatted calf and ordinary life resumed, what then? How did the good brother, the dutiful one who had stayed at home, come to terms with the situation? Did the prodigal one really manage to give up his wandering life and settle down? Could the father really fully forgive?
HOME begins with the thirty-eight year old, Glory, one of eight children, arriving home to take care of her elderly father, a retired Presbyterian minister. She is wounded by romantic betrayal and the knowledge that she has lost the chance of children and a home of her own. The scene is set for the arrival of the true prodigal, her brother Jack, always the black sheep of the family, who has been gone twenty years. This is a quiet novel about quiet people. There is no huge drama, and sometimes violent emotions produce little more than eddies on the surface, but how brilliantly Robinson depicts the ebb and flow of emotion, the importance of what people don’t say, the pain that well-meaning people can inflict on one another. It’s the 1950s and the TV news shows civil unrest. The anti-segregation protests seem a world away from the little town of Gilead in rural Iowa, but we come to understand that it isn’t. As for home, I think it was Robert Frost who defined it as the place where when you have to go, they have to take you in. But is it also the place that you can never escape from? There is something Checkhovian about this subtle, compassionate novel.