Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2009 | Reviews

Welcome Home

By IAM Staff
A famed Writers' Workshop faculty member crafts another classic set in a fabled Iowa town.

Though her novel Gilead won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, it is Marilynne Robinson's latest work that many consider her greatest literary achievement.

Home, by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Home, a finalist for the National Book Award, is the companion piece to Gilead, which revealed the luminous life of elderly Iowa pastor John Ames. In Home, Robinson offers the Boughton family's heartbreaking story—and a brilliant take on the parable of the prodigal son's return. Both books occur during the same time period and in the same fictional town of Gilead, Iowa.

Narrator Glory Boughton has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father, Robert, a Presbyterian minister and John Ames' best friend. Her long-lost brother, Jack, soon follows—but his homecoming brings great tension. An alcoholic and petty thief, Jack left Gilead 20 years ago; the last time Glory saw him, he had just fathered an illegitimate child and was the town disgrace. Jack's bad habits leave him at constant odds with his neighbors and with his father, who loves both his children, but particularly this troubled son he struggles to reconcile with and understand.

Through tender, subtle prose, Robinson describes the affection and anguish between Glory and Jack as they rediscover each other. Despite their differences, they display the fierce loyalty of siblings who understand what it's like to be raised by the same parents. While Jack strives to make peace with his family, his community, and his past, old habits haunt him and wounds reopen, leaving Glory to confront the impact his actions have on their father.

In England's Independent newspaper, British author Salley Vickers admits there are few books by living novelists that she wishes she'd written herself—and Robinson has penned two of them. While she calls Gilead extraordinarily beautiful, patient, and scrupulous, she says that Home surpasses these marks.

Vickers writes: "The heart of this utterly absorbing, precisely observed, marvelous novel is the fumbling inadequacy of love, its inability to avert our terrible capacity to wound and maim, not even but especially, those nearest and dearest to us."

The joy and pain of loving the flawed people in our lives—this is the universal experience of Home.