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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

A Beauty That Would Not Be Apparent to Every Eye

This phrase from Marilynne Robinson's Home is true of the Gilead novels.

And this Christmas week of 2020, I am reading Home very slowly, the way philosophy must be read, vocalizing each word, allowing the depth of thought to percolate, drip into consciousness, change from a pale watery understanding to something deep and meaningful.

As my pen moves across a pad of yellow-lined paper, I am thinking of my 1950s childhood and

the way my mother brewed coffee. I see Robinson's character, Glory, in Home, using the same glass, three-part pot, in which coffee always went cold soon after being brewed on the stove. I remember sitting and watching the coffee perk, loving the sputtering sound it made as water rose through a glass stem, passed through the canister of ground coffee, then returned to the base, slowly darkening the water. Ah the smell of it…which rouses the sleeping Jack and his father Robert in Home.

This word resonates as a meditative incantation, the sound of it a familiar mantra, a universal hum…ohm.

Home is the place Jack Boughton has evaded for twenty years, until as the prodigal son he returns to the small Iowa town of Gilead. His unmarried sister Glory, whose third-person voice narrates the novel, has also returned home. But hers is a reluctant return, with a tired, injured heart; and she, as the youngest sibling of eight, is the one who will care for their dying father, a retired Presbyterian minister, and the best friend of Reverend John Ames.


Glory's brother Jack? How does she describe him? As chronically vexatious, terminally remiss, wary, a man whose elegant evasiveness is his shield; a distant, respectful, tentative, and bone-weary man of toughened frailty. Jack eventually tells his sister: "I don't know why I am what I am."

"This life on earth is a strange business," Robinson says to her reader in Home. What could be a more appropriate phrase for this Christmas of 2020, during our year of poisonous politics and a world-wide pandemic? Yet hope also begins with the hallowed letter H.


Next week: I will return to Home and discuss a past student's anger at the novel's ending; and with luck, I will have received the recently published, Jack, for Christmas and have read the fourth Gilead novel.

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