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Jack: A Novel av Marilynne Robinson

Jack: A Novel (utgåvan 2020)

av Marilynne Robinson (Författare)

Serier: Gilead (4)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
3152162,034 (3.75)32
Titel:Jack: A Novel
Författare:Marilynne Robinson (Författare)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2020), 320 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek
Taggar:Gilead, interracial marriage


Jack av Marilynne Robinson



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When I read Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead” some years back, I felt it was one of the best books I had come across in a long time. Set in in 1950s Iowa, it consists of a long letter from a dying 76-year old Congregationalist minister John Ames to his little son, the unexpected blessing of his old age. As Ames sifts through his memories, the story of his family (particularly his preacher father and grandfather) and the community which they served starts to take shape. Old pains and preoccupations resurface - particularly those related to the minister's godson and namesake John Ames “Jack” Boughton. A troublemaker in childhood, youth and well into adulthood, is there the possibility of salvation for Boughton as well? Will God's grace ever touch him?

The passage of time has not dulled my admiration for this novel, which is lyrical, poetical, infused with (a Calvinist) theology yet utterly readable. Since Gilead, Robinson returned to the fictional world she created with two other volumes – Home and Lila – which are not sequels as such but, rather, “parallel narratives” featuring the same setting and characters but told from different perspectives.

Jack is the latest addition to the fold. It is, in some ways, a prequel to the “trilogy”, in that is is set in St Louis, Missouri around a decade before the “present” of the other three novels. Its protagonist is John Ames Boughton, the troublemaker who was so much on the mind of his godfather John Ames in Gilead. Jack is the troublemaker of the family, a vagrant living a down-and-out life which also featured a stint in prison. The novel is an account of his relationship with Della Miles, a black woman and daughter of a preacher. The relationship starts off as an unlikely friendship, but soon develops into a love affair, despite the strong opposition of Della’s family.

The novel is told in the third person but, very evidently, from the perspective of Jack. Jack is an interesting case study. He is a prodigal son, a flawed character, an intrinsically good man who, however, seems constantly drawn to evil. He has, however, a strong self-awareness, which leads him to admit that he has not much to offer Della, whom he raises on a pedestal as the epitome of goodness. Much of the novel shows Jack’s tentative steps towards letting himself being overcome by love – and not just any “love”, but a transformative one laced with divine grace.

If all this sounds very theological, be prepared that it is. And whilst Gilead, despite its deep and overt religious themes, was a gripping read, I must admit that I had to make an effort to read through Jack. Certain episodes, such as a passage early on in the novel featuring a long night spent by the lovers in a cemetery (debating theology, I hasten to clarify, rather than indulging in some Goth hanky-panky), became simply too tedious for my liking.

Obviously, the problem might have been that I was not in the mood for heavy stuff. Indeed, there have been several rave reviews of the novel, including one by Sarah Perry in the Guardian. Perry herself writes novels infused with theology of a Calvinist bent (Melmoth comes to mind) and is probably much better-placed than I am to appreciate Robinson’s “Calvinist romance”. I wish, though, that Jack were as exciting as Perry’s theological Gothic. Or, for that matter, as gripping as Robinson’s own Gilead.

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2020/10/jack-by-marilynne-robinson.html ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson is fourth in her Gilead series, following ‘Gilead’, ‘Home’ and ‘Lila’ and is a love story. Jack Boughton is the troubled son of Presbyterian minister, and Della, the attractive, black, high school teacher, daughter of a Methodist minister. This is a novel about the quality of love, its consequences, and whether sometimes loving someone means saying goodbye.
The story starts with such a brave scene for any author to write – a two-hander between Jack and Della as they meet accidentally at night. They are locked in a graveyard in St Louis and spend the night walking in conversation about life, their families, themselves, the world. A disreputable white man and a successful attractive black woman, in 1950s America. The conversation ebbs and flows, jumping from subject to subject as a real discussion does. They do not talk about love, but throughout the course of a number of chaste meetings, they fall in love.
It is sublime prose to sink into and absorb. Such small, familiar detail brings Jack and Della instantly to life. They are real and you care for them. The graveyard scene is long, so long I wondered if it took up the whole book.
We have heard of both these characters in the earlier Gilead books. We know Jack is a bad ‘un, as told by others. This is the first time we see into his head.
Robinson has a beautiful way of summarising truths that are easy to identify with. When Jack is with Della in the cemetery, he thinks, ‘Forever after, the thought of her would be painful, because it had been pleasant. Strange how that is.’ Jack is a mixture of insecurities, resentments, injuries and injustices brought upon himself and also by his strict religious upbringing by his pious pastor father.
Not a long book or a quick read, but absorbing. I totally understand why Jack falls for Della, wanting to save and protect her; I’m less sure why she loves him given the risks and dangers of a mixed marriage at that time. He loves his wisecracks and makes jokes at inappropriate times, misjudging the mood and causing silences. Their discussions range from Hamlet to theology, end-of-life world scenarios to poetry.
If you are new to Gilead, please don’t start with this book. Read them in order to get the most enjoyment of these complex stories of the Boughton and Ames families from Gilead, Iowa.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Jan 28, 2021 |
Robinson's newest novel, and fourth in her series about the family from Gilead, was a thoughtful, beautifully written tale of the son gone astray, Jack. A disappointment to his pastor father and upright family, Jack has been a flawed man, self described "a confirmed, inveterate bum."
The heart of the novel is a love story between Jack and Della, a black, English teacher and daughter of a bishop from Memphis. She has landed a job in St. Louis where Jack has gone to be away from his family, currently trying to forget the disgrace of his prison term and the sorrow he has caused another young woman. His goal is to do no harm and try to curb his natural desires to lie and steal. They meet when he stops in the rain to help her with some fallen papers and he graciously lends her his umbrella. She sees him in his dark suit and mistakes him for a reverend, a ruse he does not dispel at first. Their romance - a failed dinner out, a chance meeting in a graveyard- become the confused narratives of their mutual love. The Thanksgiving scene is wonderful. This is however around 1950 and the law forbids this relationship. As a reader, you root for them though at times you can't believe what Della sees in him, save for his love of poetry and a politeness with which he was raised. Robinson is not an easy writer, her vocabulary and illusive symbols need a concentrated effort, but I'm here to tell you it's worth it. I highly recommend this and the other books related to her community of novels. Like Faulkner and William Kennedy, it's a special treat to revisit characters that you only briefly knew before.

Some lines:

He had noticed that men in his line of worklessness, which did involve recourse to drink, were marked, sooner or later, by a crease across the forehead, but he did not touch his brow.

And here she was, Della, the woman he had recruited into his daydreams to make up for a paucity of meaning and event he sometimes found oppressive. No harm done. She was safe in his daydreams. Cherished, really.

Their lives were parallel lines that would not meet, he knew that, he would see to that. But they defined each other, somehow.

The preposterous fellow with dirty yellow hair just the color of the tobacco stains on his fingers and greasy yellow-tinted spectacles was treating him like a fool.

Then one time she set a copy of Paterson on the table in front of him, smiled to recommend it, and vanished, a little arthritically, into the stacks. He seemed to bring out the angelic in old ladies. And it was a very great book! It made it seem a profound thing to sit on a bench watching the river, the ships, the gulls, which was another way he had of killing time. He loved that book, and out of respect for that lady did not steal it, only put it behind shelved books where no one else would find it.

It was on the basis of the slight and subtle encouragements offered by despair that he had discovered a new aspiration, harmlessness, which accorded well enough with his habits if not his disposition.

Cleverness has a special piquancy when it blooms out of the fraying sleeve of failure.

Just those few notes were incitement enough to make up for the lack of an antagonist. He had heard the glass with the money in it hit the floor and the coins scatter. Oh well. Here he was, alone in an alley, bleeding again. He would have to sacrifice his handkerchief to his necktie. What a ridiculous life.

He knew he would go from being a little content to pretty content to despondent, each phase in his descent rewarding in its own way.

The city was closed, but the doors of churches were open, releasing gusts of music and sociability, and incense and pot luck and perfume.

He rubbed his eyes with a finger and thumb and polished the lenses with the corner of a very large handkerchief—“ I have to be ready for grief,” Jack’s father had said once. “You don’t always see it coming.”

A few days after his talk with Hutchins, Jack went out walking, trying to get tired enough to sleep, staying sober, so that if he did jump in the river, he could feel that his demise had the dignity of a considered choice.

But once in a lifetime, maybe, you look at a stranger and you see a soul, a glorious presence out of place in the world. And if you love God, every choice is made for you. There is no turning away. You’ve seen the mystery—you’ve seen what life is about. What it’s for. And a soul has no earthly qualities, no history among the things of this world, no guilt or injury or failure. No more than a flame would have. There is nothing to be said about it except that it is a holy human soul. And it is a miracle when you recognize it.” ( )
  novelcommentary | Jan 16, 2021 |
[Jack] is the fourth book in Robinson's series about characters from the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa. This novel explores the prodigal son, Jack, whose behavior was such a source of drama and gossip and grief in the other books. Jack, who is white, is basically homeless, an alcoholic, has had a stint in prison, and then meets a young Black woman who he falls in love with. Like Jack, Della is also the daughter of a minister and is living on her own in St. Louis as a teacher.

Their relationship is unlikely to me, and I had a hard time figuring out why they would have been attracted to each other, especially on Della's end. This is the 1950s, so there is really no way they can be together as a mixed-race couple. Jack is depressed, poor, and drinking too much. Yes, he is intelligent and kind but I can't imagine Della even discovering that beneath his poor, sad exterior.

Robinson's writing is, as always, beautiful and observant. Her writing is subtle and complex. So I did love this book, but I didn't like it quite as much as her other novels. I think Jack's story works better as a catalyst for conversations and character reactions in her other novels. When explored on its own, I thought Jack wasn't quite as interesting of a character as I found him when he was more mysterious and distant in the other novels. ( )
1 rösta japaul22 | Jan 15, 2021 |
This is the fourth book in the short series that started with Gilead and if you've been reading them you kind of know what to expect: quiet desperation, slow moving plot all described in brilliant prose loaded with lots of words you may need to look up. Luckily, I read this on Kindle which makes looking up words seamless. Anyway, the eponymous hero is familiar from previous volumes. A ne'er do well son of the Gilead minister, a frequent drunk, a fly by night employee, he's just getting by in St. Louis where he falls in love with a black woman, Della, a school teacher, after spending the night in a local cemetery. Unfortunately, mid-20th century America made a relationship like this almost impossible especially since it was illegal in much of the country. But somehow these two characters think they can make a go of it, even over the objections of her family. We don't know what Jack's father might think of this situation since he has no relationship with him and never bothered to go home for his mother's funeral.

Robinson is such a gifted writer that it almost doesn't matter what she writes. I could probably be happy reading her grocery list. But I have to say I have no idea what Della saw in Jack. You'd be hard pressed to find a more useless, sleazy character, few redeeming characteristics, a liar although she's not aware of the extent of his lying, and yet she is drawn to him. I get the idea of forgiveness but I'm not sure that's even the point here. And yet.....I enjoyed the reading of this volume and wouldn't mind reading another volume if Robinson decides she's got another book in her. ( )
1 rösta brenzi | Dec 8, 2020 |
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