Sandpoint, Idaho

You may recall that our last stop was more than a little upsetting, for me at least. Today’s novel is one of my favorites from my Twentieth Century American Literature course. It takes place in Fingerbone, Idaho (possibly based on Sandpoint). Does this ring any bells? It is the setting of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel, Housekeeping.

The first edition cover
The first edition cover

A synopsis:

The novel is centered around two young girls, Lucy and Ruth, and told from Ruth’s perspective. The girls’ mother lost her father at a young age, and went out on her own to marry. She didn’t keep in touch with her mother. Her husband deserted her. Several years later, the mother dropped Lucy and Ruth off at their grandmother’s house and then drove herself off of a cliff. Ruth, the older of the two, describes the continual abandonment felt by the girls and how they sought stability and love differently.

I would give you more of a description, but I think the Robinson is infinitely more poetic. I view this novel as a coming of age story, although, it may be a little more dreamlike than some. Robinson’s mastery of the English language shows clearly in her writing, which is eloquent and beautiful. She makes you feel Ruth’s struggle in spite of the fact that Lucy is probably the more relatable character.

It’s hard for me to capture the essence of this novel. It was impossible for me to put down because the language sucked me in and made me feel as though I was Ruth. I felt the struggles of dealing with abandonment keenly. I also enjoyed the religious references throughout the novel. Ruth often speaks of “transient” people, those who ride in and out of town on trains, stopping briefly to wander around by the lake, looked down upon by the townspeople. In one description, Ruth connects this transient quality to Cain and the fate given to him by the Lord.

I wish I could give you a more complete review, but I think that this book is one you just have to experience. Some will find it a difficult read because they won’t be able to connect with the main characters, or they will be bored by the poetic style, but Robinson has created in it a true picture of the challenges faced by children who come from broken homes and feel unloved and unwanted.

Should you read it? Yes. It is beautifully done. (Besides, you don’t know why it’s titled Housekeeping yet.)


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