The Pequod Review:
Housekeeping is an appropriate title for Marilynne Robinson's first novel, as she explores the domestic lives of two young orphaned sisters growing up in 1950s Idaho. The story is sometimes slow-going and the characters' actions are not always fully consistent or plausible, but the book has a number of heartbreakingly beautiful sentences:
The years between her husband's death and her eldest daughter's leaving home were, in fact, years of almost perfect serenity. My grandfather had sometimes spoken of disappointment. With him gone they were cut free from the troublesome possibility of success,, recognition, advancement. They had no reason to look forward, nothing to regret. Their lives spun off the tilting world like thread off a spindle, breakfast time, suppertime, lilac time, apple time. If heaven was to be this world purged of disaster and nuisance, if immortality was to be this life held in poise and arrest, and if this world purged and this life unconsuming could be thought of as world and life restored to their proper natures, it is no wonder that five serene, eventless years lulled my grandmother into forgetting what she should never have forgotten.
Bernice, who lived below us, was our only visitor. She had lavender lips and orange hair, and arched eyebrows each drawn in a single brown line, a contest between practice and palsy which sometimes ended at her ear. She was an old woman, but managed to look like a young woman with a ravaging disease. She stood any number of hours in our doorway, her long back arched and her arms folded on her spherical belly, telling scandalous stories in a voice hushed in deference to the fact that Lucille and I should not be hearing them.
Since my grandmother had a little income and owned her house outright, she always took some satisfaction in thinking ahead to the time when her simple private destiny would intersect with the great public processes of law and finance — that is, to the time of her death. All the habits and patterns and properties that had settled around her, the monthly checks from the bank, the house she had lived in since she came to it as a bride, the weedy orchard that surrounded the yard on three sides where smaller and wormier apples and apricots and plums had fallen every year of her widowhood, all these things would suddenly become liquid, capable of assuming new forms. And all of it would be Lucille’s and mine.
There is a reason poets often write great novels; even if this is a highly imperfect book, Robinson's close attention to detail makes for an enchanting reading experience.