Follow by Email

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Marilynne Robinson Failure

Two years ago I got 70 pages into Gilead and quit. One year ago I got 50 pages into Gilead and quit again. A week and a half ago I made it about 20 pages into Housekeeping and gave up in despair. Home is sitting on my shelf, and I don't suspect I will try it for quite some time.

Now, listen, lots of people I really like have highly recommended Marilynne Robinson's books. I read a page of her and think, yes this is my kind of lady. But, as happened with Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter, I find myself terribly bored and looking for a little more, I don't know, spunk or juice or color or something. It's all too... lyrical. Wait, is this me talking? Yes. I sort of want to poke the book with a sharp pen and see if anything changes. Perhaps, just perhaps, I should wait fifteen years and see what happens then.

In the meantime, there was at least one short passage that I liked before despair took hold:
She had always known a thousand ways to circle them all around with what must have seemed like grace. She knew a thousand songs. Her bread was tender and her jelly tart, and on rainy days she made cookies and applesauce. (12)
That sounds like I should like it, right? But it's really just not doing anything for me. This is troubling, very troubling... So, I put it down, and re-visited first Richard Cory, which is twistedly shocking, and then The Wedding Gift:
Her father had been wicked, her mother a fool
who withered and then died, her chin besmeared by drool.
She grew with this resolve, held above all other --
she'd not wed a bastard, or become her mother.
Thinking it was love, she came when he commanded.
Starving for poor love, she gave what he demanded.
He did at first seem loving, kind and sweet and dear,
but soon she saw her trap -- he soured in a year.
He would come, this husband, so awfully late each night,
and her anemic heart would tremble at the sight.
She loved to wish and dream of places far away,
but he had caught her fast, and forced her there to stay.
A man came travelling by, with tales of times of old,
and told of lovely girls, of men both brave and bold.
And then her starving soul, so long benumbed and dark,
saw with wretched fury her future, drear and stark.
She looked with anger at her man, vowed against this death --
She'd not wilt and wither with her every single breath.
In their house she pulled out a wedding gift soon dear.
She placed it in her dress and safely held it there.
With once-forgotten, now well-hidden strength of will
she served him heavy food until he had his fill.
As he approached his wife, her mind was firmly set;
That moment now was near that he'd not live to regret.
Though she'd been as her mother, just a trembling wife,
With a knife she killed him, and so retook her life.
Gotta love those Appalachian ladies. On a similar note, Caleb Meyer, courtesy of Gillian Welch, an idol of mine:

Can the Coen brothers make another movie soon, please? Or does Patrick deWitt have another novel coming out, perhaps?

I am enjoying Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. Thanks!


  1. A shocking poem. I think we must have weaned you on PG movies :)

  2. No offense but you read too much poetry. I can only assume that you have not yet sampled Tom Clancy. When you get old you realize that too much thinking only makes you depressed.

    Can't wait to see what Dr. Williams thinks of all this.