#CBR6 Review #70: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

First, a confession: I don’t mind darker family dramas. I don’t mind dysfunction in literature. I really don’t mind literature that is not light and happy. BUT I CAN’T HANDLE WEIRD HOARDING ECCENTRIC BEHAVIORS. This book kind of broke me, can you tell?

Ruthie Stone and her sister Lucille have lived a tumultuous, unstable life. The novel begins with the death of their grandfather, who was killed in an accident when the train he was on went off the tracks and slid into a lake near the town of Fingerbone, Washington. It affected Ruthie’s grandmother, mother, and aunts, who were all described as “quiet.” Helen, Ruthie and Lucille’s mother, was married in a shotgun wedding, had two girls, and then, when they were little, took them back to Fingerbone to her mother, and then drove off a cliff. The girls live with their grandma until she dies, and then they are inherited by her sisters-in-law, the nervous and prim great-aunts. Then their aunt Sylvie returns to Fingerbone amidst a life of transience, and the stage is set for family conflict.

There are sometimes I really just want to shake a literary character, and Ruthie and Sylvie were two such people. Sylvie is…odd. She wears her coat in the house and eats and sleeps at odd times. She spends days mooning over the lake and doesn’t really understand how people function in society. She hoards old newspapers and magazines until the house is disgusting. Honestly, that’s what broke me. I can’t handle filth. I can’t handle hoarding. I worked for several summers at a senior home care agency, and I could handle just about anything–including helping a person bathe or wipe themselves at the toilet–except hoarding. And Ruthie gets caught in the undertow. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I finished the audiobook while on my morning walk, and I actually yelled. It maddened me.

This book gets two stars instead of one, because it is gorgeously written. Robinson is a very talented writer. I just didn’t care for the story. I hear Gilead is excellent–I will read that soon.

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