Robinson: Housekeeping

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Zorba's Cafe

1612 20th Street Northwest · Washington

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Let's meet to discuss Marilynne Robinson's "Housekeeping." This 1980 novel was a Pulitzer finalist and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for best first novel.

Robinson later was awarded the Pulitzer for "Gilead," the first in a well-known trilogy of novels that's made her a household name among literature fans. Robinson is so well known, in fact, that the New York Review of Books published a two-part Q & A between her and then President Barack Obama in 2015.

An Idaho native, Robinson loved books & reading as young girl; she took on "Moby Dick" when she was only nine year old. She did her undergraduate study at Pembroke College, then the women's college for Brown University. Robinson followed that up with graduate studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Robinson wrote "Housekeeping" while doing a graduate thesis on Shakespeare's early plays, jotting notes as she worked and raised her young children.

"Housekeeping" centers around "two orphans, Ruth and her sister Lucille Stone, living in remote Idaho by the lakeside town of Fingerbone. These abandoned girls are raised by a succession of relatives, and finally their aunt Sylvie, a strange drifter who becomes the novel’s compelling central character," according to The Guardian.

Robinson thought the book was "too weird" to publish, and the first printing only sold 3,500 copies. Yet word-of-mouth about the book helped build an audience, and critics came to love what is now considered an American classic.

"Here's a first novel that sounds as if the author has been treasuring it up all her life, waiting for it to form itself," the New York Times declared. "It's as if, in writing it, she broke through the ordinary human condition with all its dissatisfactions, and achieved a kind of transfiguration. You can feel in the book a gathering voluptuous release of confidence, a delighted surprise at the unexpected capacities of language, a close, careful fondness for people that we thought only saints felt."