February, 2018: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

(Book #94) Mary hosted a book by Marilynne Robinson for the third time and there was quite a split about this book. Some of us loved it, maybe even capital letters LOVED it, and some of us thought it was just a waste of words! I started the evening email titled Lovely, if Arbitrary Memories with a quote from the book:

It is…difficult to describe someone, since memories are by their nature fragmented, isolated, and arbitrary as glimpses one has at night through lighted windows.

It is also… difficult to describe just how lovely this evening was with Mary as our amiable hostess. I clearly remember there was no mucking about in water, no cans stacked in the kitchen or parlor and while the dinner lighting was not bright enough for Mary to read, we did not have to eat in the dark. The food was far superior to anything described in the book at any time, although Linda and I felt fried chicken would have been OK.  But Mary outdid herself once again.  An exquisite selection  of quite palatable wine was served (after Susan saved the day with the corkscrew.) The appetizers included a well-chosen hummus and pita, tasty chips, salsa and guacamole.The meal consisted of an elegant pork roast with apples; savory wild rice; an ineffable green salad with pecans and butternut squash and some other quite refreshing things that are now isolated in some unretrievable portion of my memory; a fascinating medley of green beans, carrots and pearl onions and delectably warm dinner rolls. Dessert was a heavenly bread pudding with an amusing whiskey sauce.(Yes, I used a thesaurus but I tried to choose words you wouldn’t have to look up. How did we do? What about ineffable?)
Talk of the book: (Rosalie gets cranky when I don’t include this part)Going around the table — (please correct me if I’m wrong or add your impressions)Marcia seemed to appreciate the book but was annoyed by the number of times she required a dictionary for the authors choice of words.Karen, our new member, worried that she wasn’t smart enough to be in this book club because of the difficult read and appeared disheartened by the mental health issues that may have been at work on the family. As I come to Susan, I realize that I am not certain of her impression of the book but I know she did not love it like she did last month’s book!  Geri did not finish the book but seemed to have been in the same camp (as well as the same dorm with Linda who clearly did not appreciate the book and felt that the author made it unnecessarily complex and wordy.  Melissa, the optimist, just wanted the three daughters to come home and talk to their mother, make better choices and make things right. Mary loves Marilynne Robinson and was so moved by this passage that she highlighted it in a library book: 
“For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.”

I agreed that yes, I felt a bit dumb reading parts of it and marked some to come back later and try again to understand, but that overall the book is stunning in its representation of traumatic loss and the ripple effect of such loss, loneliness that approaches invisibility (quote to follow) and the seductiveness of transience when fitting in is beyond our reach.  Here’s that quote I promised:
It was a source of both terror and comfort to me then that I often seemed invisible — incompletely and minimally existent, in fact. It seemed to me that I made no impact on the world, and that in exchange I was privileged to watch it unawares.”

The general impression was that unlike last month’s book that set the tone for Alaska, Housekeeping did not cry out Idaho.  I’ve never been to Idaho but the I’ve been to my own private Idaho and it worked for me.
Next month is at my house MARCH 13 for Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.
Respectfully submitted, Teresa