Fic Robinson

1 Jan

Happy New Year!

This year, as inspired by a friend of mine, I’ve decided to make a goal for myself to read 50 books. I’m not at all worried about the goal–I’m in 2 personal book clubs and I run 2 book clubs for work at libraries. What worries me is being able to fit in so many books I’ve been wanting to read for so long. So I made sure to get a head start yesterday and starting reading the novel “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson.

I’m technically reading this for a work book club but I sometimes, not often, choose titles on my to-read list for us to read. I’m not sure many of the members will enjoy this novel–it’s very somber, a little difficult to follow in its construction, and without a happy ending–but I don’t care.

Robinson’s first novel is poetic. Sometimes when I read too many entertaining books I forget how lovely it is to read a good, challenging novel with language that reminds you as a reader why you read. This is that kind of book for me.

The story is simple: two young girls are raised by their Aunt after their Grandmother passes away. Their Grandmother had been raising them after their Mother committed suicide after leaving them on their Grandmother’s porch.

Throughout the novel Ruthie (who tells the story) and her sister Lucille are in a state of transition. First they lose their mother, then their Grandmother, and then they are thrust into care by their Aunt Sylvie, a drifter who has not had a home in many years. Ruthie and Lucille constantly run to the woods and to the lake to escape their home and to escape school.

What made me think of their grief is the constant running to the wilderness which drives much of their lives before adolescence. By being unable to understand how to process their grief and their worry of losing their last caregiver–for Sylvie is flighty and prone to walking away for hours at a time–they are unable to cope properly and skip school to spend time idly in the woods. What else would two children alone in the world do?

Reading Robinson’s words is a treat:

“But the deep woods are as dark and stiff and as full of their own odors as the parlor of an old house.”

“And then the library was flooded to a depth of three shelves, creating vast gaps in the Dewey decimal system.”

“Her head fell to the side so oddly and awkwardly when she reached to fasten up the hair at her neck, as my mother’s had done. That was not mysterious. They were both long and narrow women like me and nerves like theirs walk my legs and gesture my hands.”

This is not only the story of housekeeping–a family not only trying to keep their physical house but their symbolic house as well–but of what it is to live with family and without. How to keep a family standing when much of it has perished. And it is about being a woman without a mother. The older Lucille finds for herself women to model herself after, to become the woman she would like to be despite not having her mother. She is strong and capable of doing anything she likes. But younger Ruthie is unable to do the same. A dreamer like her Aunt Sylvia, Ruthie is constantly drifting through life without a sturdy mother figure to re-align her when she gets off course. By the end of the book it is unsurprising the life Ruthie allows to take hold of her and it is difficult to understand how it could have been different.

Grief and the loss of a Mother and Grandmother shifts us and changes us as women in ways that we do not always feel until much later.

So glad that I read this book and that it touched me so deeply.



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