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Families in Fiction?
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Families in Fiction?

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"Happy families are all alike," Leo Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina. But what about other families in literature? In The New York Times Book Review's Shortlist, Roy Hoffman reviewed several novels that explore family...

"Happy families are all alike," Leo Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina. But what about other families in literature? In The New York Times Book Review's Shortlist, Roy Hoffman reviewed several novels that explore family dynamics. What are your favorite fictional families?
The New York Times
Jun 17, 2015
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Marilynne Robinson - Home
Allyson Gronowitz

The Boughton family, from Marilynne Robinson's "Home"

In each book of the "Gilead" trilogy, Marilynne Robinson tells (more or less) the same story from a different character's perspective. "Home" features the third-person narration of Glory, a pious yet troubled 38-year-old woman who returns to her birthplace to care for her dying father, the Reverend Robert Boughton. But "Home" is not her story alone-- it is also the tale of her brother Jack, returning to the sleep Iowa town of Gilead after a long(er) absence. Jack is the prodigal son incarnate; he is the Reverend's favorite child, but also the one who brings him the most grief. The wayward young man who is one-dimensionally portrayed as a bad egg in the first book of the series is given layers and layers of depth in this concurrent installment. Jack drinks too much, falls disastrously in love, and veers sharply away from the religious faith that holds his family together at the seams...but all of this occurs off-piste, as we bear witness to Jack's crumbling inner life through his relationship with Glory. He is his own worst enemy, and true to the paradox of that oft-stated phrase, he can't break free of the man in his mirror. His family members are the only ones willing to believe there's any good in him, but even their faith isn't enough to comfort him.

Jack is a tortured soul if there ever was one, and Glory has demons of her own to contend with. Additional family members (several of the seven total Boughton siblings) come and go, all leaving a lasting impression. One beautiful passage describes the good ol' days in the Boughton household, as Glory reminisces about seemingly simpler times: "How to announce the return of comfort and well-being except by cooking something fragrant. That is what her mother always did. After every calamity of any significance she would fill the atmosphere of the house with the smell of cinnamon rolls or brownies, or with chicken and dumplings, and it would mean, This house has a soul that loves us all, no matter what. It would mean peace if they had fought and amnesty if they had been in trouble. It had meant, You can come down to dinner now, and no one will say a thing to bother you, unless you have forgotten to wash your hands. And her father would offer the grace, inevitable with minor variations, thanking the Lord for all the wonderful faces he saw around his table.” Amen.
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