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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

The word "lyrical" is over-used in book reviews; every time there is an even slightly pretty sentence, it seems, the word is plastered all over reviews and and dust jackets and those "praise" quotations publishers love to pepper the book with. The result is that the word becomes meaningless.

Which is a shame, because every once in a while an author really does merit its use. Reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, I could not think of a better word to describe her writing.

And every evening would bring its familiar strangeness, and crickets would sing the whole night long, under her windows and in every part of the black wilderness that stretched away from Fingerbone on either side. And she would feel that sharp loneliness she had felt every long evening since she was a child. It was the kind of loneliness that made clocks seem slow and loud and made voices sound like voices across water. Old women she had known, first her grandmother and then her mother, rocked on their porches in the evenings and sang sad songs, and did not wish to be spoken to.
Her sentences are absolutely gorgeous. Reading them feels like cold liquid washing over me.

Loneliness is an absolute discovery. When one looks from inside at a lighted window, or looks from above at the lake, one sees the image of oneself in a lighted room, the image of oneself among trees and sky -- the deception is obvious, but flattering all the same. When one looks from the darkness into the light, however, ones sees all the difference between here and there, this and that. Perhaps all unsheltered people are angry in their hearts, and would like to break the rook, spine, and ribs, and smash the windows and flood the floor and spindle the curtains and bloat the couch.

What is thought, after all, what is dreaming, but swim and flow, and the images they seem to animate? The images are the worst of it. It would be terrible to stand outside in the dark and watch a woman in a lighted room studying her face in a window, and to throw a stone at her, shattering the glass, and then to watch the window knit itself up again and the bright bits of lip and throat and hair piece themselves seamlessly again into that unknown, indifferent woman. . . . And here we find our great affinity with water, for like reflections on water our thoughts will suffer no changing shock, no permanent displacement. . . . I think it must have been my mother's plan to rupture this bright surface, to sail beneath it into very blackness, but here she was, wherever my eyes fell, and behind my eyes, whole and in fragments, a thousand images of one gesture, never dispelled but rising always, inevitably, like a drowned woman.

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