Sirius Gets Serious
The Children of Hurin: A Review

Housekeeping: A Review

HousekeepingIf it's true, as Scripture says, that we are "aliens and strangers" on the earth, without a home here, then Marilynne Robinson's 1980 book, Housekeeping, may be a reminder of what it really means to sojourn on the earth, to be ever longing for a true home. Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, dropped off by their mother with their competent (if reclusive) grandmother who cared for them until her death, and who then came under the care of Sophie, an eccentric and perhaps mentally ill aunt, a former drifter. It is and remains throughout the story an odd homelife for the girls.

Particularly for a first book, this is fine writing. The characters are well-drawn and rounded. We may not fully like them or understand them, but we know them and are sympathetic toward them even as their behavior frustrates us. Sophie is by any standard an inept caregiver and housekeeper. She collects magazines, which pile up in corners; saves cans, which line the walls; allows birds to roost in the second floor of the house; and so on. The girls barely eat, often miss school, and receive little emotional support from Sophie. Sophie wanders the woods, sits in the dark for long periods of time, sleeps in her clothes --- in other words, she lives the life of a drifter though she is, for a time, "housekeeping."

We might say, "how awful!", but even with all that we are sympathetic. Sophie is not unkind. She cares for Ruth and Lucille as best she can. It's only that she cares so little for the things of the world, for possessions, for permanence, for money, for reputation. She is, in the end, only passing through. A transient. She is unatttached to the world and its ways, and though we may not wish to be unattached in the same way or to the same extreme, it is a refreshing remoteness; we know her strangeness.

This is a story of loss and abandonment, and in this it suggests our own exile here on earth. Our loss is the fallen condition in which we live, the bent world we inhabit, and the estrangement we feel. Nothing can quite satiate our appetites, nothing slake our thirst. We are discontent. Ruthie says that "Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families." It's an odd way to put it, as God was not so much "pulled" as voluntarily followed us, bearing our infirmities the Word says, and yet Ruthie has it about right. She says "he walked on water, but He was not born to drown." I'll say not.

There is a sense that we are drifting too. And yet thank God Home is on the horizon, that our condition is neither permanent nor fatal. Our hope for permanence will come to fruition if beyond the boundaries of this world.

Housekeeping was prescribed for me by my wife as punishment (as she did not like these characters who could not seem to help themselves, but read the book because I suggested my daughter give it to her). But I'll take a licking like this anytime. I enjoyed the book, and I recommend it to you.