Into the Landscape of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping

housekeeping“This perfect quiet had settled into their house after the death of their father. That event had troubled the very medium of their lives. Time and air and sunlight bore wave and wave of shock, until all the shock was spent, and time and space and light grew still again and nothing seemed to tremble, and nothing seemed to lean. The disaster had fallen out of sight, like the train itself, and if the calm that followed it was not greater than the calm that came before it, it had seemed so. And the dear ordinary had healed as seamlessly as an image on water.”

Over this past summer, I read Housekeeping for the first time and was struck by many passages, but most of all by this one. The images are beautiful. The rhythm feels, to me, perfect. And the description of grief resonating through both internal and external spaces before seemingly vanishing, mirrors the shape of the novel itself as well as its central disaster. As she does so often in this book, Robinson melds the human world into the world of the landscape until it is impossible to separate them. The syntactical symbolism of the third sentence with its clauses rippling outwards like the “wave of shock” it describes and it’s repeated “nothing seemed…nothing seemed” create a very solid image to evoke a very uncertain state. The “dear ordinary” feels simultaneously quaint and tragic, embodying the longing for normalcy after catastrophe and the last image is one of tentative, tenuous healing: a calm returned to a surface that is inevitably troubled again.

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