what have i done with my life

Behind me climbs a tower of papers, each one containing a thought or a quote or an article that I want to write about here. A few minutes ago, I started shuffling through the stack. About midway down, I stopped on a piece of graph paper on which I had scrawled these thoughts from the character Glory in Marilynne Robinson’s Home:

“But oh, the evenings were long.  I am thirty-eight years old, she would say to herself, as she tidied up after supper.  I have a master’s degree.  I taught high school English for thirteen years.  I was a good teacher.  What have I done with my life?  What has become of it?  It’s as if I had a dream of adult life and woke up from it, still here in my parents’ house.”

I knew I had written about other characters expressing this same feeling and I wanted to connect them with Glory. In the search rectangle on the blog, I typed in “life.”

I found two posts: one titled “something more,” in which I wrote about Mrs. Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Clara in Black & White by Dani Shapiro; the other entitled “more than this,” in which I wrote about Ursula in Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence.

Here’s the weird thing: one was written on December 9th and the other on December 11th, 2008.

The end of the year pulls me toward reflection. But where’s the time?

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Just as Home, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award in Fiction, has been called a companion to Gilead, this post is a companion to yesterday’s.  Prompted by comments, I wanted to add that if you enjoyed Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson‘s first novel, you might enjoy Home, her latest.  In style of writing, Home more closely resembles Housekeeping, rather than the epistolary slowness of Gilead.  And in sensibility, compare these two passages: 

img_10301From Home: “Glory went up to the attic, the limbo of things that had been displaced from current use but were not in the strict sense useless…Other pious families gave away the things they did not need.  Boughtons put them in the attic, as if to make an experiment of doing without them before they undertook some irreparable act of generosity.”

img_1031From Housekeeping:  “Who would think of dusting or sweeping the cobwebs down in a room used for the storage of cans and newspapers–things utterly without value?  Sylvie only kept them, I think, because she considered accumulation to be the essence of housekeeping, and because she considered the hoarding of worthless things to be proof of a particularly scrupulous thrift.”

And notice the covers–and here I admit I often judge a book by its cover–at least for the few seconds before I open it.  See the curtained window on each.  See how Paul is the only Beatle in bare feet.

I wonder if Robinson’s next novel might not take us inside another person’s home in the same place and the same time.  In other words, I wonder how many ways she can tell the same story, which is in fact not the same story.  And with each telling, if she will manage to show how a story we thought complete was in fact not.



For anyone who enjoyed Gilead, Marilynne Robinson‘s second novel, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, you will love her new novel, Home.  For she has just crossed town, so to speak, and turned around to tell us the story from a different porch. 

On page 29 of Gilead, narrated by John Ames, he tells us, “I walked over to Boughton’s to see what he was up to…Glory is there doing everything she can think of to make him comfortable…”  It is here at Boughton’s that most of Home takes place. 

Again in Gilead, on page 86, “Glory has come to tell me Jack Boughton is home.” 

Home is written in the third person from Glory’s point of view.  Although each of these novels is complete in and of itself, together they become two halves of a greater world.

Some of my favorite lines in Home:

“Such times you had!” her father said, as if the present slight desolation were confetti and candy wrappers left after the passing of some glorious parade.”

“The joke seemed to be that once they were very young and now they were very old, and that they had been the same day after day and were somehow at the end of it all so utterly changed.”

“There is so much to be grateful for, words are poor things…”

“How to announce the return of comfort and well-being except by cooking something fragrant.  That is what her mother always did.  After every calamity of any significance she would fill the atmosphere of the house with the smell of cinnamon rolls or brownies, or with chicken and dumplings, and it would mean, This house has a soul that loves us all, no matter what.”

“And here is the world, she thought, just as we left it.”