No, it’s not a how-to guide for aspiring domestic goddesses. Though it was published more than 25 years ago, Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, puts a decisively feminist twist on the classic American coming-of-age saga.
The author is best known for her second novel, Gilead, which won a Pulitzer in 2005. But in choosing a book for this fall’s Santa Barbara Reads series, library employees felt Housekeeping would appeal to a wider readership. At only 220 pages, it’s a fairly quick read. The novel’s themes are universal: the struggle toward adulthood, the pain of loss and abandonment, the unspoken agreements that underpin the idea of family, and the transience of life itself. And then there’s the writing itself; precise, radiant, subtly comical, begging to be read slowly and savored.
All of the book’s main characters are female; the narrator Ruth and her sister Lucille grow up in a small town in Idaho, abandoned by their father and then by their mother to be raised first by their widowed grandmother and then by a succession of unmarried aunts. Rising up again and again is the theme of housekeeping, and what it means to each of these women to be tied to a home.
Over at the public library’s main branch, reference librarian Chris Gallery is busy putting together a list of conversation topics, and throughout the month of October book discussions for Housekeeping will be held at various library branches. Gallery is confident readers will find plenty to talk about. “I had never read her writing before, and it’s just beautiful; you sink into it,” she said. “Among the issues that come up is the question of what holds a family together. It’s a very eccentric, weird family that develops in this book.”
This year, the public library has teamed up with UCSB Arts & Lectures to bring the author to Santa Barbara for a free public lecture. And getting to meet Robinson in person is just one more reason to grab yourself a copy and jump on board the reading train.
Housekeeping is now available at all branches of the public library in paperback and as a book on CD. Marilynne Robinson will speak at Victoria Hall Theater on Friday, October 24, at 7:30 p.m. For more on Santa Barbara Reads 2008, call 564-5604 or visit sbplibrary.org.