Twenty-four years passed between Marilynne Robinson's stunning debut Housekeeping and her second novel, Gilead. Now that Home, a sequel to Gilead, has appeared only four years later, fans of Robinson's still-waters-run-deep prose and achingly poignant characterizations must feel their cups are overflowing. Robinson's is no less a treasure for arriving more frequently; her prose remains an experience to be savored, page by page and often word by word. Yet its appeal lies in Robinson's ability to capture moments on the way toward the inevitable decline and end of all things, without harming the fragile, fleeting quality of the singular instance. She writes about the tipping of the scales between memory and hope, as her characters close their eyes on the past with only a thread of faith connecting them to the unknown beyond.
Gilead recorded the theological reminiscences of John Ames, pastor of the Congregationalist church in Gilead, Iowa, as he struggled with tragedy and grace both in his own life and in that of his namesake, his best friend's son, Jack Boughton. In Home, Robinson most often adopts the perspective of Reverend Boughton's youngest daughter, Glory, who has returned home in her fading youth to care for her aging father. When prodigal son Jack returns home after 20 years of dissipation, the father is overjoyed but anxious, parsing through Presbyterian precepts the question of whether his extended visit means there's any hope for his salvation. Meanwhile, Glory works through conflicted feelings of invasion, indignation, and filial concern in responding to the presence of a brother whose love she always craved. Gradually, the outlines of his unknown life in two decades of absence are revealed to the family, and to Ames down the street, whose forgiveness and forbearance will hardly come easy.
Home's plot would be somewhat cryptic without Gilead, but in terms of suspense, it might work best alone; information about Jack that comes as a revelation to Glory is already known to Ames, and therefore isn't a surprise to attentive readers of both novels. But as with Gilead, the story's action lies not in what happens—very little, other than front-porch sitting, grace at meals, and fretful nights waiting for Jack's footstep on the stair—but in how the characters respond to the crushing weight of their lost opportunities. With her peculiar keenness, Robinson ponders a mystery: Does God predestine us to bliss or perdition, and if so, where can the elect be found in this vale of tears?