Sunday, November 22, 2020

Review: Jack

Jack Jack by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Friday, the 2021 Tournament of Books Long list came out, and I had a healthy number of books from it already on hand that I hadn't read yet. So I picked up this book, which I had from the publisher through Edelweiss but was a bit delayed in reading.

This book fits in with all the Gilead novels, which tell pieces of the same story from different perspectives. I was surprised when Lila came out and definitely didn't expect another one after that. Since a lot of people ask, you can read this as a standalone in the sense that it has its own start and finish, but it will mean a lot more in the context of the other three. For me, it had been years since I read the others and I was a bit hazy on the details.

And Robinson doesn't repeat herself. Since she assumed we know three versions of Jack's story already, she jumps in with a disagreement he is having with a woman, and the reader does not immediately know what is happening. All is revealed, but time is not entirely linear in Gilead and we will revisit some of the story a few times, from different angles.

Robinson is obsessed with Calvinism and other deep regions of thought where religion and philosophy intersect. I went to see her speak once and she was a lot more deep and narrow than I was particularly interested in, if I'm being honest. This novel is full of that type of rumination. Jack spends a lot of time reading in the public library so his vocabulary is rich and full of poetic meanderings. Della teaches English, so she contributes her own ideas. The entire 1/3 and many other chunks of the novel are long conversations of these two characters talking. And reading friend, not a lot happens, until it does.

It was nice to shift a bit from character study to ideas, but I didn't get nearly enough from Della's perspective. Some of her choices seemed strange and I don't really understand her well. Does this mean we will end up with a fifth novel? Would Robinson dare to try to write in the voice of an African American character? I'm not sure she should but I'm also not sure she should have written this novel without it, if that makes sense.

Regardless, this has a lot to discuss, making it a great book to be in the Tournament of Books.

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