30 December 2009
On impulse, I’ve just re-read Marilynne Robinson‘s Housekeeping. It’s my third reading, the first about a decade ago.
This time around, I am struck by the complexity of the novel’s theology. Or maybe what I mean to say is that I am struck by just how theological the novel is. In the past I might have described the novel as “beautiful.” This time around, I felt its brutality. Ruthie Stone is the embodiment of a loneliness so deep and utter: when she crosses that bridge, that harrowing journey at the end, both away from nothingness and toward nothingness, it seems to me that she crosses from loneliness as a constant companion to loneliness as her essence. Darkness, cold, estrangement — she is swallowed whole.
Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes… Being man He felt the pull of death, and being God He must have wondered more than we do what it would be like…
…when I think back to the crossing of the bridge, one moment bulges like the belly of a lens and all the others are at the peripheries and diminished. Was it only that the wind rose suddenly, so that we had to cower and lean against it like blind women groping their way along a wall? or did we really hear some sound too loud to be heard, some word so true we did not understand it, but merely felt it pour through our nerves like darkness or water?
I don’t know what to do with Housekeeping on this third read. I am shaken by it. There is a feeling that Robinson wrote the book in a kind of visionary trance; and her vision rivals Rilke’s in its terrifying (beautiful?) understanding of what it is to be a stark, lone soul in the universe.