Sunday, July 17, 2005

On the Outside Looking In

Upon returning to a computer during my summer vacation, I'd like to recommend a wonderful novel I recently read called Housekeeping.

Last month I wrote appreciatively about Marilynne Robinson's current novel, Gilead, which has won this year's Pulitzer Prize. Now I'd like to praise Ms. Robinson's only other novel, Housekeeping, which she brought out 20 years ago to become an instant classic exhibiting consummate artistry rarely seen in a first novel.

As in Gilead,a single character, Ruthie, tells of her life and her impressions of the world she sees. Ruthie, and to a lesser extent her younger sister Lucille, are detached from the world by their tragic family circumstances. The two sisters, who never knew their father, are orphaned when their mother drives off a cliff into the lake near their town of Fingerbone. The girls are passed from relative to relative until they end up with their spacy Aunt Sylvie, who curiously enough, often tells stories of people she has met on buses or trains. Ruthie repeatedly explains why she is an outsider, always feeling like a passerby looking into a brightly lit window at the people inside on a cold winter's night. Lucy manages to join into normal society, but Ruthie finds a compatriot in Sylvie and they end up drifting through the West together.

This is a rather short gem of a novel done with enormous heart and skill.


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