Sunday, May 13, 2012

Marilynne Robinson Week 1: Housekeeping

This week I am reading the works of Marilynne Robinson.

Her first novel, Housekeeping (1980), takes her central character, a young teenager named Ruth, to the physical and emotional edge of civilization. Her parents disappear and she and her sister go to live with their grandmother in a tiny lumber town on a huge lake in Idaho. When grandma dies, their not-quite-of-this-world aunt comes to care of them.

Ruth and Aunt Sylvia start loosely connected to the world. They attempt housekeeping as a normal connection with the world. This proves harder and harder. I won't say more about the plot.

I am reading Robinson as a serious Christian author.  She does have some deep comments about perceiving reality.

Still, do novels have to be about unhappy people in peculiar situations?


Natalie said...

Well, no. But there has to be a problem or a conflict or a task for the protagonist. This can be monumental or it can be smallish. That is necessary in a novel (not short fiction). This is my opinion, and it is also what I have been taught in English classes since grade 9. And it reflects life. We all have tasks, conflicts, or problems we work through. We have moments of happiness and of something other it longing, sadness, disappointment, boredom.

My suspicion is that most writers are unhappy and their characters are, too. Maybe it's just more interesting to take an unhappy person and make he or she happy by the end. To me, playing God in that way we writer's do, fixing people's issues IS satisfying.

For a Christian writer, conflict seems built-in to the genre. Since Biblical times.

gruntled said...

Is the circle of life a conflict? Is it conflict enough to generate an interesting story? If you know at the outset that the characters will complete the circle of life, is there enough interest in how they do it to make a compelling story?

Household Management service said...
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Natalie said...

I have given this much thought and I agree that, yes, life is a conflict and a task, and all that matters is if a novel is interesting to the author. You have to be invested in what you write. Sometimes the HOW of a book is enough of or more of an interest than the IF or the WHY. Does that make sense?

Sister Edith said...

The unusual circumstances seem to be a necessary component. A novel in which a pretty good parent struggles with a recalcitrant teenager is unlikely to find many readers. If the teenager has some peculiar skill, or the struggle takes place in the Mojave desert, or the town where they live is in the midst of a war, the commonplace struggle that many parents face becomes interesting. Or so they say (I don't read much fiction.)