I just realized that I finished reading the last book left in Marilynne Robinson's trilogy based on her book Gilead, without posting a review like I had for Gilead and Lila. It's been a few weeks since I finished it, but I will do my best to write out all the feelings and thoughts that this book brought me, which will hopefully encourage anyone looking for a reading experience to consider these books.
I finished Home while on vacation with friends over spring break. It was fitting, because we were visiting my dear Floridian friend's home, which she doesn't get to visit that often during school. I finished the last few pages with my heart being twisted and subdued with a pacified ending. I remember trying to explain the emotional turmoil that I was feeling on behalf of the characters, and my patient boyfriend trying to understand with no background or context to the story. If you're looking for a deep, powerful story to follow and love, this is a good one.
I think it was sentimental and nostalgic on the heightened level that it was because I had technically read them out of order. I would recommend reading them in the order that I did, because Home just seemed like a good finale. I read it last because my dear friend Rachel lent me her copies of Gilead and Lila last summer, and I read them in that respective order. Between both of those books, I had plenty of outsider observations and speculations on the main character of Home, Jack Boughton, and thereby felt that I had enough contextual knowledge of his life to understand where he was coming from.
I was quite wrong.
There was so much more to this man's story than I, or anyone in Gilead, could have known. But throughout the course of the book, his youngest sister, Glory, gets the privilege of learning about his life, bit by bit, almost sentence by sentence, as he slowly opens up to her and eventually depends on her as a confidant and support.
I could get into the details of the hard life that haunted and defined Jack Boughton, but I'd like the purpose of this post to be more along the lines of how Home seemed to complete the theme of these books, and how that picture affected me, as the reader.
I'm pretty thoroughly convinced that Jack Boughton's prodigal self is the "main plot" of these books. Granted, he is not mentioned much in Lila, but that book is obviously centered around giving us background on Ames's wife, Lila. She (Lila) does mention her curiosity about Jack, however. She feels like she can relate to him and be more herself with him, because he seems like he has seen much of the world too. That connection is very interesting to me.
Gilead mentions the mysterious Jack quite more often, and tells a little of his story, as it is narrated by Ames, who had seen and somewhat experienced these events from the same prospective as the rest of the Boughtons. Unfortunately, this perspective is still from the outside looking in. Jack is one of those classic prodigals who never let anyone close enough to truly understand him. I think this is because he barely understood himself. He battled with his past and his shame for so long that I wondered when it all started, and if he had ever had a chance to believe that he was a good man. The plight of a distanced pastor's son, always coveting approval that he could never actually, honestly achieve.
Even when he tried to make things right, with his family of Boughtons and with the family that he had started, he loses courage after what seemed to me to be entirely too much time invested to just give up. He struggles with the seemingly ungraspable safeties of salvation, righteousness, and respect. He has completely resigned to the punishments that he has brought upon himself, and has given up trying to seek redemption. I wish I could say his story ended with complete resurrection of his soul, but I cannot.
I think the narrative that reading the books in this order follows climaxes at Jack's refusal to stay and live the mended life that Gilead offered. In the first book, we learn about John Ames and his lifelong journey of learning about God and man, and how those two relate to one another. The faithful church-goer, who learned the power of redemption through helping countless people to it. Then we have Lila, who is one of the clearest pictures of Christ and the church that I have ever read. She lived the most depraved, helpless, wild life, and found redemption in the arms of an old preacher from a little town who didn't care about who she used to be, but who she was to him. Last, we have poor Jack. Jack who ran from redemption because he thought he was too late. Jack, who tasted the world and burned his tongue. Who finally, after vagabond year after year, returned to his father's house, seeking redemption even though he thought he could never achieve it. He tried with his last hope, and while he did find some consolation in his sister's friendship, and comfort in her lack of judgement, he still could not bring himself to whatever steps he needed to take for salvation. His wrongs too wrong, his addictions too heavy. He ran away from his sins, and the next day redemption came looking for him. That was the saddest thing I have ever read.
I'm not nearly giving these books credit for every theological and moral theme that they hold. There is so much between them all, and I can only encourage you, if you are looking to read something that will make you think deeper thoughts on deeper things, to read these masterpieces.