Sunday, December 2, 2012


1980, 1987 Bantam edition
Marilynne Robinson
Original and purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

This debut novel makes an interesting follow-up to Jacob Have I Loved, and not just because I was assigned both books in college.  They share imagery and themes, including sisterhood, water, death, and madness; and they both seem to evoke love/hate feelings on Amazon and other review sites.  The teenaged protagonist in both is difficult to sympathize with.  The time period is less clear than in Jacob, and could be anywhere between 1910 and 1960, although the movie version, which I've never seen, is set in the 1950s.  In Jacob, Sarah Louise imagines escaping her island to live in the mountains, while Robinson's town of Fingerbone is set in Idaho hills near a lake.

This is a more melancholy, delicate book, some of the language quite lovely.  There's less of a plot, and certainly less of a happy ending.  The heroine is even more estranged from her sister, although they were once as close as twins.  Sarah Louise has to deal with her cruel, senile grandmother, but Ruthie falls under the spell of her mentally ill, transient aunt.

In Jacob floods, bring death and destruction, sometimes welcome, as with the numerous cats, while here, Ruthie's family seems to be almost hypnotically drawn to drowning.  Her sister Lucille hungers for normality, while Caroline was special because she was frail, pretty, and musically talented.

I feel like this is clearly a better written book than Jacob, although that in turn was stronger than Terabithia (which also dealt with siblinghood and drowning, although not madness), and yet I can't say I enjoyed it more than either of Paterson's books.  It's meant for adults, but I could actually see someone recommending it over Jacob for an intelligent, sensitive teen, as long as she or he didn't mind no closure at all.

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