Thursday, January 7, 2021

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

by Marilynne Robinson
Published September 2020 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Source: check out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:

Marilynne Robinson’s mythical world of Gilead, Iowa—the setting of her novels Gilead, Home, and Lila, and now Jack—and its beloved characters have illuminated and interrogated the complexities of American history, the power of our emotions, and the wonders of a sacred world. Jack is Robinson’s fourth novel in this now-classic series. In it, Robinson tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, and his romance with Della Miles, a high school teacher who is also the child of a preacher. Their deeply felt, tormented, star-crossed interracial romance resonates with all the paradoxes of American life, then and now. 

Robinson’s Gilead novels, which have won one Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Critics Circle Awards, are a vital contribution to contemporary American literature and a revelation of our national character and humanity.

My Thoughts:
On my phone, this book was 615 pages long. It is not really 615 pages long; it's 320 pages in hardcover. But it takes every bit as long to read those 320 pages as it would 615 actual pages because Robinson's writing simply cannot be rushed, it pulls you in and holds you down. Robinson's books must be read slowly; she insists that you stop and think about what is in the minds of her characters. 

And there is here, as in all of her books, so very much on her characters' minds and Robinson writes it so beautifully. She writes of faith, family, self-respect, responsibility, redemption, addiction, race, and love. Jack battles his addictions as well as his guilt at the choices he can't seem to help himself from making. He wants to be a better man but there's a part of him that believes he is past redemption. He has vowed to be harmless, that much he can do; and he knows when he meets Della that being with Della will harm her. But she is the first person who truly understands him,"You are living like someone who has died already."

I love Robinson's characters and Jack may be one of my favorites. He has caused so many so much pain but he is also a gentleman. He works so hard to battle his demons and to do right by the people he loves. There is supposed to be a final book in the Gilead chapter and I so hope that Jack and Della reappear in it. But it little matters. I will read it and I will be blown away by the beauty of Robinson's writing. This is a woman who can write about buildings in a lovely way:
"There is nothing cordial or accommodating about buildings, whatever they might let people believe. The stresses of simply standing there, preposterous constructions, Euclidian like nothing in nature, the ground heaving under them, rain seeping in while their joints go slack with rot. They speak disgruntlement, creaks and groans, and less nameable sounds that suggest presence of the kind that is conjured only by emptiness. Grudges, plaints, and threats, an interior conversation, not meant to be heard, that would startle anyone."
I like to say that I don't read romance novels but Jack is absolutely a novel about romance. It is subtle, it is about knowing one another, it is about the moments together.
"It will be made up entirely of stolen minutes and hours every now and then, for years and years, and we will pity all the people whose lives are diluted with time and habit and complacency and respectability until they can hardly savor the best pleasures - we will live for a month on just once passing on the street."
Seriously, doesn't that touch your heart? This whole book did that to me. As I knew it would. 


  1. I haven't read anything by Marilynne Robinson yet but I do have her Home on my shelves. I didn't realize her books were part of a set - do they need to be read in a sequence? Sounds to me they are standalone but I wonder what makes for the best reading experience.

  2. Home is technically the second book in the series and I do think that reading Gilead first is the best idea. After that, you really can read them in any order.