EppsNet Archive: Marilynne Robinson

Boring a Lot of People For a Long Time

17 Jun 2013 /

I’ve probably been boring a lot of people for a long time. Strange to find comfort in the idea. There have always been things I felt I must tell them, even if no one listened or understood.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Happy Fathers Day

16 Jun 2013 /

I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

These People Who See Right Through You

18 Apr 2013 /

These people who see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you’re making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

To be useful was the best thing the old men ever hoped for themselves, and to be aimless was their worst fear. — Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

EppsNet Book Club

11 Apr 2013 /

Welcome to the EppsNet Book Club! Here’s what we’ve been reading lately . . .

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is the journal of an old man — a pastor in a small town in Iowa — writing to his young son, whom he intends to read it after his death. He doesn’t know how to get to the point, he complains about his health despite an absence of physical symptoms, he sees everything as a blessing . . .

He has no strong convictions — I think this but other people think that and they may have a point. The one strong conviction that he does have, he recants by the end of the book.

It’s not a bad book but since the author, Marilynne Robinson, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for it, I feel like I have to say that it’s not a very good book either. Imagine being cornered at a family reunion by one of your least interesting older relatives and you’ll have a good sense of what reading Gilead is like.

Rating: 3 stars

Straight Man by Richard Russo

Straight Man is an academic satire set in a small state college in Pennsylvania. William Henry Devereaux Jr. is the chairman of the English department. His colleagues, who can’t stand one another, maneuver to hold on to their jobs in the face of rumored upcoming budget cuts.

Straight Man is a fun book to read, if not quite up to the gold standard for academic satire, which is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Russo offers a nod to Amis by giving Devereaux the nickname Lucky Hank.

Russo has also won a Pulitzer Prize, not for Straight Man but for a novel he wrote a few years later called Empire Falls.

Rating: 4 stars

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections is a terrific piece of work. Enid Lambert, mother of three grown children and wife to a man losing his faculties to Parkinson’s disease, has her heart set on bringing the whole family together for one final Christmas. Franzen uses the motif of “corrections” in multiple ways, including the way that children shape their own lives as “corrections” of the lives of their parents.

Unlike the two previous authors — Robinson and Russo — Jonathan Franzen has not won a Pulitzer Prize. The Corrections won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2001, and was a finalist for the fiction Pulitzer in 2002, but lost out to Russo’s Empire Falls.

If you just read The Corrections and Straight Man, you’d have to say that Franzen is a much better writer than Russo, but it may be that Russo’s ambitions were more modest with Straight Man than with Empire Falls. If I were a real book reviewer, I would have read Empire Falls and could tell you for certain, but I’m not and I haven’t.

The Corrections is a good companion piece to Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin on the themes of aging and what happens in families when the kids become grown-ups and the parents get old.

One section of the book — the Denise section — is a notch below the rest, but everything else is so good that I can’t give anything less than the highest acclaim.

Rating: 5 stars