I’m tempted to call Marilynne Robinson a favorite writer of mine, but this is the only work of hers that I’ve read so I’d be saying it prematurely. (I have Gilead, Home, and Lila waiting for me, so perhaps I can qualify the statement here soon.)
Housekeeping is told from the point of view of Ruthie, an adolescent girl whose mother committed suicide and whose father is nowhere to be found. She and her sister Lucille were left in the care of their grandmother, and – what do you know – she died too. The orphans live in Fingerbone, an oppressive town known for the tragic train accident that killed the girls’ grandfather and for its propensity for flooding. Two oddball aging aunts from the Northwest come to care for Ruthie and Lucille, but they fret and become overwhelmed and decide to leave the girls with their final caregiver, the absent-minded, transient Aunt Sylvie. She feeds them dinner in the dark off makeshift plates from laundry detergent boxes.
From what I’ve just written, you’re probably thinking, “Those poor girls,” and you would be right to think so. Ruthie and Lucille have been abandoned in the worst way – through depression and tragedy and desperate measures. And yet, the book is wonderful. It’s engaging and engrossing. I would’ve read it more quickly than I did (it’s only 220 pages, after all) but the mundane bits of life have been incredibly distracting.
Housekeeping has been given such accolade that there’s not much more I can say to improve upon what’s already been said. One thing I’ll add – the narrative is so tightly written that you cannot skip a word. Not even one. Marilynne Robinson is a master at writing in Deep POV, a skill I badly want to hone. Her writing is poetic and brings the reader right into the moment without all that extra fat of explaining the scene. Dang, she’s good. If this book isn’t already on college reading lists, it should be.