Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

I've been hearing for years what a great novel Housekeeping is and after reading Gilead recently, I had to check out Robinson's first novel.

Marilynne Robinson is a master. I think she may be the finest writer working in America today (I'll be reading Home, her latest, soon enough and that may clinch it). Every description, every metaphor she wields feels absolutely fresh in this story of two sisters being raised by an aunt who is slightly off-kilter.

Here's a passage from the girls skipping school and wandering near the glacial lake that their town of Fingerbone rests against:
The woods themselves disturbed us. We liked the little clearings, the burned-off places where wild strawberries grew. Buttercups are the materialization of the humid yellow light one finds in such places. (Buttercups in those mountains are rare and delicate, bright, lacquered, and big on short stems. People delve them up, earth and all, and bring them home like trophies. Newspapers give prizes for the earliest ones. In gardens they perish.) But the deep woods are as dark and stiff and as full of their own odors as the parlor of an old house. We would walk among those great legs, hearing the enthralled and incessant murmurings far above our heads, like children at a funeral.

It's the kind of book that you find something worth quoting on nearly every page. The story moves toward heartbreak when one sister decides she's had enough of the quirky household and grows more independent, more attuned to society, while the other sister, the narrator, slips into the reclusive, transient lifestyle of her aunt.

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