Thursday, May 8, 2008

NYT Reading Room: After Great Pain by Marilynne Robinson

From New York Times Reading Room:
By Becky Sinkler

My dim recollection of the “Housekeeping” I read in 1980 was of a wonderful saga,Housekeeping/ a comic novel about an eccentric family and a group of unforgettable woman characters. Nowadays I come away from multiple re-readings of the novel with a heavy heart. For all its pleasures, the novel is so suffused with loneliness and grief that the more I read, the sadder I get.

The final vision of Sylvie and Ruth, after all, is not far from that
of two homeless people, adrift in the world. I don’t agree with
John Shannon that Sylvie is clinically insane — far from it. But
I think she is pitiably alone, and that, hard as she may have tried,
she couldn’t really save herself or Ruthie. All she could do was
to keep the last remnants of her family together, if not house-keeping,
at least maintaining the essential bond.

“It’s a terrible thing to break up a family,” writes Ruth, and again: “Families should stay together. They should. There is no other help.” Much of the novel is about family shatterings and their aftermath. The breaks can be natural, accidental or, worst, deliberate, but they set off chain reactions.

Years after Helen has been cast out of the family, she returns to the
scene to cast her own children into what will be a “mourning that
will not be comforted.”

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