“Michael E said: 3 stars
I was disappointed with the muted passions of the characters in the novel and their unrealistic dwelling on spiritual and moral issues in isolation from the wellsprings of the usual ongoing connections and concerns in life. The prose has the same elegant and spare virtues as Robinson’s previous books, “Housekeeping” and “Gilead”, but the narrative often dragged to me due to excessive length relative to few substantive events and choices in action taken by the characters.
In the late 50’s, a dutiful middle-aged daughter, Glory, leaves her teaching job to return to rural Gilead, Iowa, to take care of her frail elderly father, a saint-like pillar of the community he served as a Presbytarian minister. They are joined by an extended visit of the prodigal oldest son, Jack, who was a troublemaker in his youth and has been a source of worry while out of touch for nearly two decades. Outwardly, Christian kindness, forgiveness, and hope for redemption abounds in all their interactions, yet each of the three struggle with their largely hidden senses of guilt over past failures and inadequacies in their current roles in life.
As the characters move toward a better understanding of each other, the reader is faced with a claustrophobia inducing sense of isolation. Aside from regular interactions of daily home life, there is little impingement of the outside world for most of the novel. When Jack and Glory refer to their past lives, no names or places are revealed. A TV is acquired, providing and small window of discussion about the ongoing conflicts of the Civil Rights movement. A rhythm of home life is marked by Jack regularly working on an old car and he and Glory tending daily to the garden. No one fights or displays strong emotions when they are together. No serious medical illnesses of the father calls for dramatic efforts in his care.
There is beauty in this innovative model for exploring the meaning of “home” and exploration of whether adults can truly return to it. But the story almost leans toward the absurdist minimalist of “Waiting for Godot” or to the philosophical setting of Plato’s Cave. But for me I need more realism or more content in the story to reap full pleasures of the resonance between the universal and particulars of life.”