Author: Marilynne Robinson
First Published: 1980, by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
So much has been written about this book, everywhere, and by everyone, that I’m reluctant to say much else other than it is one of my favorite books of all time. And I am certainly not alone (though when I re-read this classic, I like to think that I am—the intimacy that it commands from you is surprising.) It’s a beautiful rendition of “loss without heaviness,” as the book’s editor, Pat Strachan, said nearly 30 years after it was published, and the language, the mood, the imagery, and the lake—all of it sucks you right in.
There is so little to remember of anyone—an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us long.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the story is that there isn’t much of one: two girls are raised by an eccentric aunt, walk around a lake a lot, and grow apart. Not much to it, but at the same time you just lose yourself in the landscape, the language, and the dark undertones of the characters’ interactions. Ruthie (the narrator) is a dreamer, and she makes a dreamer of you too. You plunge into the dream only to awaken, like Ruthie, longing for something that is no longer there, or was never there to begin with.
We all have mornings like that, I think.