by Marilynne Robinson
Having already read books like "A Thousand Acres," "The Blind Assassin," and "The Stone Diaries" I thought I'd be well-equipped to handle this book. I was wrong. I hadn't prepared myself for a book this dull with characters this bland and opaque.
The story takes place in a western town called Fingerbone and is told by Ruthie. Ruthie's grandfather brought his family to Fingerbone in the search for adventure, solitude, and serenity in the mountains. Instead, the grandfather winds up dying in a train accident so that his three daughters are raised alone by his wife in their house. The daughters sit around braiding each other's hair and baking cookies and reading. (The excitement is killing me!) The oldest daughter Molly goes off to China as a missionary and never returns. The middle daughter Helen marries a man and has two daughters--Ruthie and Lucille--in Seattle. The youngest girl Sylvie marries a man as well but soon disappears and generally lives like a hobo.
Then one day Helen returns with her daughters to Fingerbone. After leaving Ruthie and Lucille with the grandma, Helen drives the car she borrowed from a cliff--does the owner's insurance cover that? Since the other sisters have vanished, the grandma takes over raising Ruthie and Lucille for a few years, where they braid hair, bake cookies, and read. When the grandmother dies, two nervous aunts take over the braiding, baking, and reading until the excitement of small town life and raising these two handfuls (please take note of the sarcasm) becomes too much for them. Fortunately by this time they've gotten word to Sylvie, who shows up to care for Ruthie and Sylvie.
Now things really shift into overdrive where the braiding and baking is replaced by fishing and ice skating and camping out at the lake. Sylvie remains mysterious and is prone to some hobo ways like saving tin cans and old magazines and sometimes sleeping on a park bench. Lucille, though the younger child, matures faster and wants a more normal life. This creates a rift between her and the less-mature Ruthie as well as Sylvie.
I think you can tell from my sarcastic plot summary that I really didn't find much entertainment value here. The writing is pretty enough, but there's not much happening in the story of interest. At the end I was left trying to find the "why" in this story, as in why Sylvie was the way she was and why she'd left her husband and so forth. I never think it's good when I have more questions AFTER reading the book than before.
Anyway, I didn't think any of the books I mentioned at the beginning were all that exciting either, though "Blind Assassin" at least had more mysterious elements to keep my interest. "Housekeeping" is just another bland coming-of-age family saga that's as dull and dreary as the fog-shrouded railroad tracks on the cover--and they say you can't judge a book by its cover, ha!
That is all.