I read the book Home during my first summer AWAY from home, when I was experiencing acute loneliness and frustration with myself and how my life felt at the time. This book touched me in a very personal way and I have re-read it many times since. It's warm and wondrous and sad and I want to tell you why:
Quick background: Home is a contemporary retelling of the parable of the prodigal son. It doesn't follow the bible story exactly but the premise is the same. The book is sister to Robinson's earlier novel, Gilead, which tells the same story from a different point of view. I like Home more than Gilead because it moves a little faster and is easier to read.
Home takes place in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. It tells the story of Jack, the oldest son and black sheep of the of Boughton family, who, 20 years after running away in college and getting a sixteen year-old girl pregnant, has come home. He returns, expecting to find shame and disgust and instead is greeted with gentleness and grace. Glory (the youngest daughter, and the narrator), tries to make Jack feel comfortable in the home he always felt alien to. She allows him to work through his problems on his own while encouraging him to make amends with their father, but somehow her kindness and mercy make him feel less deserving and more foreign. The story is two-fold, because as Glory tries to help Jack, she learns a great deal about herself.
I love the book Home because it teaches principles of family and forgiveness in very personal ways. Even though Glory and her father are kind to Jack, he still feels uncomfortable and unwanted. He's bothered by the mistakes he has made, and he's even MORE bothered by the fact that he can't seem to change. As Glory puts together the pieces of Jack's past, she is forced to confront some issues of her own, and discovers that maybe she is just as lost as he is. She suffers from her own doubts and her own disillusionment with life. One of my favorite lines from the book is after Glory finishes praying. She says, "She knew that was not an honest prayer, and she did not linger over it. The right prayer would have been, Lord . . . I am miserable and bitter at heart, and old fears are rising up in me so that everything I do makes everything worse." The discouragement and confusion that Glory feels is so tangible in that moment. She is miserable and bitter at heart and she doesn't know what to do. I think many of us have felt that way at one time or another.
I won't ruin the rest of the book for you (not that you can't figure it out), but I will close by saying that this book is definitely worth reading. The writing is quiet and poetic and personal, and the story isn't just about Jack or Glory--the main character is actually their father. But on a different level, it's about all of us. It's the tale of two very different people who are trying to find their way in the dark, and how they help each other get home. Near the end of the book, Glory says all of this perfectly. "Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home."
There's a lot more to Home than I have talked about on this blog. Other (better) reviews can be found here:
New York Times
The Paris Review