Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Housekeeping (not what you think)


Housekeeping, a novel 

--Not a book about a woman sweeping her kitchen floor.  It is one of the most haunting, amazing, astonishing novels I have ever read. Yet, oddly, I resisted reading it for years because I was put off by the title.

So, don’t you get put off by it.  It’s not what you think.

This novel has everything to do with blurring the boundary that divides our sense of outside and inside, exterior and interior, home and homelessness.  It bends the boundaries of normalcy in terms of how we define home and what evokes our feelings of home.   I don’t want to say more than this because if you haven’t read this book, you must.

You must.

One more thing.  As many of you already know, this book came out in the 1980s.What you don’t know is that I was a graduate student at Brown University, in the creative writing department.  While I was there, one of our graduates came back to give a reading from her debut novel.

Guess who?

Marilynne Robinson.  Her novel was called, Housekeeping, and it was rocking the literary world (but I couldn't get past my resistance to the title). 

At the reception, I remember how shy Marilynne was.  She stood at the edge of the crowds, politely nodding when people went up to her to congratulate her on her success. She seemed exceedingly introverted, her head and body almost an afterthought, meaning she didn’t reveal much in her facial expressions or body movements.

I am a fast reader and often I’ll read in chunks of paragraphs or half pages, but this book demanded that I read it sentence by sentence.  Robinson’s words conjured up ghosts that hovered over the pages.  I swear to God I felt strange, intangible spirits rising out of this book.

Let me know if you experienced these eerie sensations, too.






17 comments:

  1. How funny you should write about this when I had just put this book on my "To Buy" list. I actually find the title draws me in. But I'm ALWAYS drawn to a book that in any way insinuates a strong sense of home. Like you, it's something I crave.

    After hearing your thoughts, I really can't wait to read!

    Thanks, Jessica.
    xox

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  2. A friend made me read the book and watch the movie when it first came out.

    It was an astonishing book - in some ways more astonishing to me b/c Christine Lahti totally captured (imo) the essence of Sylvie.

    I read it again last year, and it didn't have quite the magic it did the first time. I think my friend so completely loved it her enthusiasm and spirit got caught up with the book for me, and reading it all these years later, w/o her spirit being part of it, it seemed lacking. Not a reflection on the book at all.

    The year I read the book and saw the film, I was living directly above my best friend, in Hollywood,and although we had been best friends for years, we'd never lived in the same town. Most of those years we lived in different parts of the country.

    So, suddenly, we were living "upstairs/downstairs" and our apts. were sort of extensions of one another. She had a key to mine, I had one to hers, and we generally ate meals together. All that got so entwined with my experience of the book. One of those things that I wish it were possible to re-create, like watching a play's perfect performance or a concert.

    Thanks for reminding me. It's fun to think back to that year. Home then was very different than home now - but it had the very same sense of comfort.

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  3. Tish, that is funny. Why now? Did the title conjure up an image for you?

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  4. Billie,
    What you describe dovetails some of the way of life in the book, the sense of merging and mixing with someone to the point where identities start to slip a little.

    Interesting that your second read was less powerful. I don't think I ever want to see the film version.

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  5. So strange you should emntion this bec ause just this morning I came across a blurb about it in an old Readers Digest. Must be a sign. Thanks for reaffirming my urge to read it.

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  6. Amy--yes. It's a sign. Read it! You will love it. The first page will seem innocuous, and maybe the second page and the third but then you will soon realize you have walked full body into the water of this haunting world.

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  7. One of the most haunting and beautiful novels I've ever read. It's been many years, but just looking at that title I can still conjure the mood it created.

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  8. oh yes, she's a brilliant writer. love Housekeeping!

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  9. Patry, how gratifying that a book continues to resonate for you after many years. Powerful!

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  10. Hi, Maryanne. Thanks for stopping in!

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  11. I've never heard of the novel or the film before, but with such a crowd of excellent references, how can I resist? I'll have to look it up. I admit, like you, Jessica, I probably wouldn't have picked it up from the title.

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  12. I am not familiar with Housekeeping, but I know Marilynne Robinson well through her lovely book Gilead. It starts out slowly and continues in that vein, but it brought me deeply into the spirit of the narrator. A truly inspiring and learning experience. I now have the sequel to Gilead which is called Home. Seems to me it might be a good choice for you with this blog, but I recommend you read Gilead first.
    Lovely post, Jessica, and when I've read Home, I'll be looking our for Housekeeping, thanks to you!
    Ancient Reader

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  13. Ancient Reader-Glad to hear about Gilead. Gilead won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. (She published Housekeeping 25 years prior to Gilead.)

    Jessica

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  14. Adding it to my amazon wish list right now...if for no other reason than the fact that I'd be *just* like her, if I had to do that reception. Well, that, and you recommended it. Thanks.

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  15. You're welcome. I do hope you read it this year!

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  16. I finished this last week. Actually, I read it in a few days, since it's not a door stopper of a book. I did enjoy it - very image heavy and evocative of... I don't know... cold, loneliness? Other stuff too. I liked it.

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  17. Krebiz--You're right. It's not a door stopper but for me it was a heart stopper. You don't sound quite the same level of amazed as I was. But, yes. It's image heavy and evocative. Thanks for reading it and offering your thoughts.

    Jessica

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