HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson: A Review

Walker Percy has described this strange 1980 publication of Robinson’s first novel as a “haunting dream of a story.” The characters are strange; the plot is strange; and the ending is strange, open to more than one interpretation. Even the characters are strange enough to wonder if they are sane or not. Ruth, the older of two sisters has never fit in, nor never wanted to. Her younger sister, Lucille is just the opposite, desiring to be popular and to lead a “normal” life. Eventually, the sisters come under the care of their mother’s sister, Sylvia Fisher, the strangest of characters I’ve ever read. She is described as “eccentric” and “remote,” a definite understatement.

Underlying the story is the river and the railroad that crossed the river once, sending a whole train and all its passengers into the glacial waters so deep no one ever found the train or any traces of it. The girls’ grandfather was killed in the accident. There are no chapters in this book, to speak of ; one section just flows into another, pulling the reader along as the river pulls along the things and people who fall into it. Thematically, the novel deals with the transience and impermanence of things and of life, The Great Depression, insanity, death, and suicide. In places it is depressing, but, throughout, it is beautifully written. There are even some spots of dark humor.

Years ago I had read and loved Gilead, Home, and Lila, Robinson’s outstanding trilogy, and came to her debut novel late, expecting something that was not present. The novel left me impressed with the writing, intrigued and a bit puzzled by the ending. I could not rate this novel if I wanted to and kept the copy I ordered rather than passing it along because I am sure I will, at some point, read it again.


Author: Rae Longest

This year marks my fiftieth year in AAUW (American Association of University Women). The Alvin chapter was begun in 1947, and as a new, green teacher to Alvin Independent School District, I joined in 1968. In the 80's we began a book group to share our love of reading, books,and fellowship with other women and girls who loved the same. We resurrected the group on-line in September of 2015. Eventually Powerful Women Readers folded as an on-line book club, but I kept the title and turned it into a blog. (See "Introduction,"first blog). This is my first experience at blogging or publishing anything and is becomes more fun with each blog posted. I have just completed 30 years of teaching as an adjunct at The University of Houston Clear Lake. This is after three years at Alvin Community College and an almost-twenty year career as a classroom teacher with Alvin Independent School District, adding up to a total of teaching 50 years in all. Reading and writing are "in my blood" just like teaching is. I hope you enjoy the blog.

4 thoughts on “HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson: A Review”

  1. Oh my goodness! This one sounds extraordinary… Thank you for sharing – especially as it clearly has put you in something of a spin and it’s always so much harder to write about those experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It did indeed put me in a spin that lasted days after I’d finished the book. Writing about it has made me start thinking about it again, and our discussion of it at our Third Tuesday Book Club on the 18th will probably end in an argument/discussion about my weird “take” on the ending.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. But that’s good! Otherwise a book churns around in your head and won’t leave you alone, anyway. My book blogging pals call it a ‘book hangover’ which seems a really appropriate label:)

        Liked by 1 person

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