I’m a huge fan of Marilynne Robinson. Lila remains one of my favourite books. I opened Jack hoping for that same careful attention to the twists and turns of consciousness. I wasn’t disappointed.
Jack hails from Gilead, the Iowa town that provides the setting for three previous novels of which Lila is one. He is the prodigal son of Gilead’s preacher who has done his best to stay away, thinking his best road is one in which he attempts to be harmless and going home might cause more harm than good.
Jack falls in love with Della, an African-American girl, at a time when interracial marriage was against the law.
I came to this novel late. Everyone talked about loving it. I wasn’t drawn to the idea of reading a popular novel about love – not sure what that says about me.
Of course, once I’d opened the pages of this novel set in Dublin and County Sligo, I was there exactly for that intense, early adult exploration of identity through relationships, in this case, one relationship, that between Connell and Marianne.
Connell comes from a single-parent, working class family and, though shy, is popular in school. Marianne, also in a single-parent family, comes from a wealthy, but dysfunctional home. Unashamed to hide her intelligence, unafraid to stand out from the crowd, she is not at all popular in school. Given that Connell’s mum works as a cleaner in Marianne’s house, the two teenagers meet outside of school and form an attachment.
Daddy is a series of ten short stories that delve right into the heart of character. The stories work well collected together, as each seems to address some darker menace hovering below the normal-looking surface of people’s lives. Each main character has such a specific outlook that behaviours others may recoil from are presented as almost inevitable, sometimes regrettable, but still somehow impossible to avoid.
A father erases his past violent behaviour through the filter of memory and the insistence upon his own change (‘What Can You Do with a General’). Another father, in ‘Northeast Regional’, goes to his son’s school to sort out what will happen after his son assaulted another pupil, all while he’s trying to text a married woman he’s having an affair with. He knows his son only vaguely and is cross when his son’s girlfriend doesn’t eat the food she ordered for lunch. The girlfriend drops her fork and the waitress comes to pick it up and give her another. In a line that seems to sum up the strange mutable sense of individual morality the collection explores, Cline writes:
‘When she retreated, leaving Richard alone with his son and the crying girl, it occurred to him, with the delayed logic of a dream, that the waitress must have thought he was the bad guy in all this.’
Where do you go when your parents are killed in a car crash and you have no immediate family? Where do you feel most safe? The new house your parents have just moved to, or the old one, the one you have most memories in, the one that might still hold remnants of your parents, the odd sock fallen and lost into the places no one thinks to look?
Elise is eleven. She remembers how to get into the house and she finds her way into the walls. A new family live there now. A couple with two boys, the youngest, Eddie, almost two years older than her. He is quiet, considered odd because, amongst other things, he doesn’t like the sounds people make when they eat and has his supper apart from his family. He doesn’t tell them about the lego figure that moved inside his carefully constructed castle, or the books that go missing for days. His big brother thinks playing with lego is lame, that he needs to grow up, to stop being so weird.
I’m so excited to announce the launch of my soundwalk, One Circuitous Path: a retelling of the Minotaur myth. Released today, listen or download the sound piece here and sign up for the socially distanced event here. Part of #SoundWalkSeptember 2020 the piece is just over 20 minutes long and asks you to reimagine what might really have been at the heart of that labyrinth in Crete. With music by Ruth Bulman and voices by Bronwen Price and Christopher Simpson it’s a mythic feast for the ears. Do take a listen.