Here in Broomfield, CO we embrace One Book, One City, in which many citizens all read a selected book and talk about it, listen to lectures and readings. Turns out we also have a national version, The Big Read, originated and promoted by the National Endowment for the Arts. This year The Big Read features Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping. The book came out in 1980, was nominated for a Pulitzer and won the Hemingway/PEN Award in 1981. Who knew? Not me. But I’m now a fan.
The Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop (Denver) has a grant to distribute and to explore this book. With the NEA money, Lighthouse bought 5000 copies and are distributing them through a series of discussions this month. Last evening’s Friday 500 crowd at Lighthouse was treated to a discussion of Robinson’s style, led by Dan Manzanares, Lighthouse Curator and hard-working, fast-reading leader of the Fri500 program. While there was no way in one hour to fully explain the magic wrought by this novelist, we learned a bit more about reading as writers. And those who did not own the book (I have it on my Kindle) got a free copy.
The big draw of Housekeeping is the style, a mix of startling images, an almost languid pace, and a narrator who knows more than she should, but still is believable. Dan described the mood of the book as “smouldering.” Robinson is a generous writer, lavishing scenes with description that in less talented hands would be wearisome. The book is one long poem and the ending solidifies the plot and the authority with which the narrator, Ruthie, tells her story of family loyalty, of place and of being outsiders in a town with fixed ideas of what “housekeeping” ought to be, a town that does not look far beyond domestic traditions of cleanliness and order to the deeper needs of home and family, in all its physical and spiritual aspects. Transience, fixity, birth, death and loss are themes that mesh and weave together in a wonderful fabric of language.
Please, look for the book and go to The Big Read website: http://www.neabigread.org/about.php