From the Kindle Shelf: Home

From time to time I have thought of doing more book reviews in this space, or at least commenting on some of the things I’ve been reading. That thought lies behind a new category of occasional posts to be offered under the heading “From the Kindle Shelf.” If there is interest, perhaps I’ll establish a separate blog page on which several of you can offer up some thoughts on what you’ve found on your Kindle, Nook, or whatever. Let me know if you have such interest.

Today’s post is not so much a review as a set of observations gleaned from a novel written by Marilyn Robinson, simply entitled Home. The book itself is a slowly moving account of a ministerial family in the midwest, set in the middle of the 20th century. Its power, however, is in Robinson’s development of characters–especially of the afflicted, tormented soul of Jack, the presumed misfit of the family. His is a story, only partially but effectively told, cast in a way that proves hauntingly descriptive of failed attempts at self-understanding in a (dare I say it?) postmodern world.

I was first introduced to Robinson’s writing at the suggestion of a former student (thanks, Lisa). That introduction was by way of a very different genre, specifically a cultural-philosophical critique Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self. In this work, Robinson proves to be an extremely capable interpreter of philosophies both openly expressed and covertly distributed through contemporary culture. The unsustainable concept of the self, she argues, lies behind the inability of today’s drifting, aimless souls to find a home. The novel, I strongly suspect, is her alternative way of saying the same thing.

One could argue, I suppose, that the ending of Home is too abrupt and that the story itself becomes a bit repetitive. But since I’m even less of a literary critic than I am an economist, I won’t go farther with those thoughts. What I do find compelling is that, as with any good novel, is that there are poignant passages here and there that stand on their own as captors of the human condition. One such passage is the following:

“That odd capacity for destitution, as if by nature we ought to have so much more than nature gives us. As if we are shockingly unclothed when we lack the complacencies of ordinary life. In destitution, even of feeling or purpose, a human being is more hauntingly human and vulnerable to kindness because there is the sense that things should be otherwise, and then the thought of what is wanting and what alleviation would be, and how the soul could be put at ease, restored. At home. But the soul finds its own home if it ever has a home at all.”

Our world is full of people who display such “destitution of feeling and purpose” in so many cleverly disguised ways. Some of them are in our churches, masquerading as saved souls. What is there in the good news to change them? What hope is there of finding a home? How would home be recognized in order that it might be embraced? And what specific wantings are there, and what is their alleviation? Of what has “nature” as perceived deprived people?