Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson – Susan’s Newsletter November 2007

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Susan’s Thursday Note November 22, 2007
Housekeeping by Marianne Robsinson
After death of someone loved – becoming more aware of beauty in life
 
Good morning!  The caffeine hasn’t hit my bloodstream yet, so I hope that my fingers and neurons in my brain can work together to give you thoughts of mine in an intelligent relay!  I heard about a book on NPR last week named Housekeeping (by Marilynne Robinson, also author of Gilead) that caught my attention.  The back of the book gives the best short description – better than I could do, “brilliantly portrays the impermanence of all things, especially beauty and happiness…The scenes in this book are mainly description and dialogue of two young girl’s lives living with different relatives.  Ruth & Lucille’s struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.”
 
I haven’t finished the book, but would like to write to you a beautiful section that I want to have in the forefront of my mind.  I have a beautiful woman as a neighbor, Mrs. Dalva Coffee, who lost her husband to cancer last summer.  I enter her home during this time of transience for her and “she has surrounded herself with what she loves” (Anne Lindbergh).  Here is what I underlined in this book, writing her name in the margin as another example of a woman I would like to be during the different transitions in my own life.
 
(describing a kitchen scene after the death of the father)…Never since they were small children had they clustered about her so, and never since then had she been so aware of the smell of their hair, their softness, breathiness, abruptness.  It filled her with a strange elation, the same elation, the same pleasure she had felt when any of them, nursing, had fastened her eyes on her face and reached for her…her hair, her lips, hungry to touch, eager to be filled for awhile and sleep.
 
She had always known a thousand ways to circle them all around with what must have been like grace.  She knew a thousand songs…In the summer she kept roses in a vase on the piano, huge, pungent roses, and when the blooms ripened and the petals fell, she put them in a tall Chinese jar, with cloves and thyme and sticks of cinnamon.  Her children slept on starched sheets under layers of quilts and in the morning her curtains filled with light the way sails fill with wind.  Of course they pressed her and touched her as if she had just returned after an absence.  Not because they were afraid she would vanish as their father had done, but because his sudden vanishing had made them aware of her.
 
The chapter goes on in detail the calmness they surrounded themselves with the next few years before the girls married.  I just loved the way she described how the mother made their lives beautiful.  I especially love how she described their new awareness of each other. That line in itself was what I have desired – to be aware of details, to be aware of touch, to be aware of colors, to be aware of what seems to be such “trite” parts of our lives, when those are the most beautiful pieces in our lives if we truly think about it.  We must surround ourselves with what we love.  Details.  Details.  They make us aware.  Make us truly live regardless of what is going on. Mrs. Coffee is doing that next door. She is quietly surrounding herself with what makes her aware.  Blooming cactii, flowers, smells of cooking. She is loving us differently – taking the time to ask me to coffee, for she isn’t afraid of my vanishing, she is now aware of what she has that is beautiful to her.
 
I hope that made sense!  I still haven’t dared to be aware of the beautiful flavor and effects of my perfectly brewed coffee, for I don’t want to wake up Camden, but I am aware of the silence in my living room.  The only silence for my day.  I pray that you will be aware of the silent presence of our God today.  That you will be aware that you only must drop to your knees or look up to the heavens – such joy and peace and comfort are right there.  Go take on your day.  Thank you so much for your business and encouragement!!!  I am aware of you being the reason I am able to keep this little store going for all of us!!!  Susan
 
Works Cited:
Robinson, Marilynne.  Housekeeping.  New York.  Picador.  2004.

Product Overview

A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.” Ruth and Lucille’s struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 219 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (October 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312424094
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces

Recommended in Susan’s November 11, 2007 Newsletter