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Hundreds of thousands were enthralled by the luminous voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. Home is an entirely independent, deeply affecting novel that takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames’s closest friend.

Glory Boughton, aged thirty-eight, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Soon her brother, Jack—the prodigal son of the family, gone for twenty ...

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Hundreds of thousands were enthralled by the luminous voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. Home is an entirely independent, deeply affecting novel that takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames’s closest friend.

Glory Boughton, aged thirty-eight, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Soon her brother, Jack—the prodigal son of the family, gone for twenty years—comes home too, looking for refuge and trying to make peace with a past littered with tormenting trouble and pain.

Jack is one of the great characters in recent literature. A bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who cannot hold a job, he is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, though he remains Boughton’s most beloved child. Brilliant, lovable, and wayward, Jack forges an intense bond with Glory and engages painfully with Ames, his godfather and namesake.

Home is a moving and healing book about families, family secrets, and the passing of the generations, about love and death and faith. It is Robinson’s greatest work, an unforgettable embodiment of the deepest and most universal emotions.

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Editorial Reviews

A. O. Scott
Home and Gilead are marvelous novels about family, friendship and aging. But they are great novels—or perhaps two installments in a single, as yet unfinished great novel—about race and religion in American life…[Home] is a book unsparing in its acknowledgment of sin and unstinting in its belief in the possibility of grace. It is at once hard and forgiving, bitter and joyful, fanatical and serene. It is a wild, eccentric, radical work of literature that grows out of the broadest, most fertile, most familiar native literary tradition. What a strange old book it is.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Writing one novel about a minister's family is asking for trouble; writing a second seems downright unrepentant, the kind of misjudgment that could land a reputable literary author in a Christian bookstore or with a cozy series on the BBC. But Robinson, who teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is unlikely to suffer either fate; her books are toxic to sentimentality. Even more than their stylistic beauty, what's miraculous about Gilead and Home is their explicit focus on spiritual affliction, discussed in the hard terms of Protestant theology. Robinson uses the words "grace," "salvation" and "prayer" frequently and without embarrassment and without drifting into the gassy lingo of ecumenical spirituality. Her characters cower in the shadow of perdition.
—The Washington Post
Carolyn See
A legitimate question arises here: Why has the publisher released this goofy little novel in September, rather than June, in time for the Fourth of July? Because, perhaps, this is actually a story about the coarseness, vulgarity and naivete of the U.S. presidential elections. Keillor's genius lies in the fact that after you finish reading this, you don't despair. He makes a strong case for the innate decency of the ocarina players, pig-manure vendors and even an odious governor and would-be member of Congress as they sweatily pursue their political ambitions.
—The Washington Post
David Kirby
Like Mark Twain, Keillor takes time to spell out details and, in so doing, convert the base metal of small-town tedium to the gold of comedy…Storywise, Liberty doesn't dazzle, nor is it intended to. As in most leading-up-to-the-event novels, the action moves in just one direction (an author can do only so much with flashbacks), and convention requires that there be lots of complications but that things turn out O.K. in the end, which is what happens. Liberty excels at portraiture, not plot.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Robinson's third novel, and second returning to the Iowan home of ministers John Ames and Robert Boughton, is a conflict between the responsible father and his prodigal son. Robinson's style is old-fashioned, puzzling over timeless concerns like faith and responsibility. Maggi-Meg Reed is perfectly amenable, retreating into the audio attic and retrieving some of the creakier techniques: a singsong cadence, a hoarse Yankee assurance-a Walter Brennanesque tone-for the Reverend Boughton. That these work so well is testament to Reed, who offered an excellent reading of The Time Traveler's Wife. It is also a sign of the essential rightness of this particular reading for Robinson's novel. In writing of clergymen and faith, Robinson's prose is near-biblical; Reed's voice conveys a similar depth of feeling and simplicity of expression. A Farrar, Straus & Giroux hardcover (Reviews, June 30). (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In this companion to her Pulitzer® Prize-winning novel, Gilead, Robinson focuses on the Rev. John Boughton and two of his eight children. While her skillful, nuanced writing brings new meaning to the prodigal son story, this title is better suited to print than audio, as the slow-moving plot and numerous theological discussions make listening difficult. Though the overall audio quality is excellent, actress/singer/narrator Maggi-Meg Reed (The Time Traveler's Wife) occasionally overemotes, especially in her portrayal of Boughton. Recommended with some reservation for large collections. [Audio clip available through us.macmillan.com; the Farrar hc, a "Hot Tickets" BookExpo America pick (LJ7/08), received a starred review (LJ8/08).-Ed.]
—Nancy R. Ives

Kirkus Reviews
One of the funnier Lake Wobegon novels might be the saddest as well. The farcical note on which the book opens gives no indication of the tragic undercurrent to come. In the latest from radio's A Prairie Home Companion tale-spinner Keillor (Pontoon, 2007, etc.), town mechanic Clint Bunsen has become too dictatorial in his role as chairman of Lake Wobegon's Fourth of July festivities, or so his hometown critics contend. Though his increasingly ambitious spectacles attracted the attention of CNN the previous year, some question the expense involved in luring attractions such as the Leaping Lutherans Parachute Team and the Fabulous Frisbee Dogs of Fergus Falls. "It is not easy trying to sell grandeur and pizzazz to a bunch of sour old pragmatists," grumbles Clint, particularly when so many citizens find their own roles in the celebration diminished. The very soul of Lake Wobegon is at stake, though the Minnesota hamlet is no longer a refuge from the outside world. Depression increasingly dissolves into a pharmaceutical haze, and teenage girls now dress like junior trollops. Ousted from his chairmanship, Clint takes stock of his life, discovering in the process that he made a huge mistake coming back to Minnesota from California after his discharge from the Army, and that his marriage to his hometown sweetheart was more from obligation than love, "[a]s if he were in a play written by someone who didn't like him." He finds the road not taken through the Internet, where he connects with a clairvoyant (who may also be a stripper) some 35 years younger than he. Their improbable affair throws Clint's life, his marriage and his hometown into turmoil, culminating in his last holiday as chairman. Itwould be easier to laugh if the novel didn't invest Clint with such pathos and his wife with such devotion. On the Fourth of July, will Clint choose liberty or responsibility?"Living in Lake Wobegon was like being stuck in a bad marriage," thinks Clint, leaving the rest of the novel to resolve whether the Bunsens' marriage is worse than most.
From the Publisher
Gilead is a beautiful work—demanding, grave and lucid . . . Robinson’s words have a spiritual force that’s very rare in contemporary fiction.” —James Wood, The New York Times Book Review


"There is almost no first-rate American fiction about what happens in a household where religion is the family business, but if you ever wondered what it's like to be a preacher's kid, you can't do better than "Home." Robinson's greatest achievement is that she manages to introduce the notions of belief and religious mystery without ever seeming vague. She never shies from uncomfortable truths. When Jack asks Glory why she hates Gilead and wants to leave, she says, "Because it reminds me of when I was happy." Fixing dinner, she "wished that it mattered more that [she and her father and brother] loved one another. Or mattered less, since guilt and disappointment seemed to batten on love. Her father and brother were both laid low by grief, as if it were a sickness, and she had nothing better to offer them than chicken and dumplings." This is a novel that builds its truth out of quotidian detail—the way Jack thumbs the felt on his hat brim, the way Glory thinks in Bible verses: watching Jack leave at the end of the book, she thinks, "A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their face. Ah, Jack." This is book full of sadness, but the greatest sadness on the reader's part is that it has to end."—Newsweek


“One of "Home's" pleasures is watching Glory and Jack rediscover each other after years of separation and misunderstanding. Each possesses a wry, almost mordant sense of humor; for such a serious writer, Robinson can be very funny. Through hardship and humor, these two siblings find in one another an empathy unique to those in the same gene pool, shouldering a similar burden of parental expectations.”—Seattle Times


"In both "Home" and "Gilead," Robinson appears to be considering (among myriad themes and issues) the ravaging, irremediable loneliness of the unbeliever. She embeds her inquiry in a lode of theological history, and a nest of comforting physical details. "Home's" deepest pleasures may come from the exchanges (which form the novel's body) between Glory and Jack - tentative, difficult, sore with love, anguish, insight, told through Glory's exquisitely nuanced perceptions in clean, simple, luminous language. (Robinson's prose soothes and calms, itself a balm.) Jack strives to prove himself, relapses and self-lacerates, retriggering everyone's sorrow, not least that of a father who hardens as he diminishes - a spectacle so universal in its particularity it becomes nearly unbearable. We may hope, "Home" finally suggests, that things will one day settle, in unanticipated ways. Robinson loves the word "settle," and by it she does not mean resignation.


" "Home" offers such intricate characterizations, so many passages of surpassing wisdom and beauty, one yearns to quote page after page. It rejoices in the humblest actions - giving a haircut, weeding, making meals, coffee - the holiness of the daily. As handily as it fits Frost's famous lines, "Home" also calls to mind those of the late, entirely unreligious E.B. White: "All that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.""—San Francisco Chronicle


 “Any novel from Marilynne Robinson arrives with a sense of the miraculous.  More than two decades passed between the publication of her quietly earth-shattering debut, HOUSEKEEPING, a book that remains a modern classic, and its triumphant, expansive follow-up, GILEAD, a Pulitzer Prize-winner in 2005.  We can be grateful to not have to wait so long for HOME…Marilynne Robinson lives up to her dazzling reputation.” —Vogue


“HOME takes up with the elderly and ailing Reverend Boughton-neighbor and friend of Gilead’s narrator, the Reverend John Ames-and his daughter and wayward son.  Animated by Robinson’s quietly unassailable love for and faith in them, they rise off the page and grip us with the drama of their lives” —Elle


“[Robinson’s] prose is our flight out, a keen instrument of vision and transcendence.  The book is told from the perspective of Glory, so this language is given a compelling personal voice…While the men work out their splintery emotions, the wisdom and grace of the book resides in the quiet voice of the woman who loves them.”—O, the Magazine


“Robinson, one of America’s most quietly thrilling novelists, paints a serene Iowa landscape which contrasts with Glory’s memories of Jack, her father’s ancient anger and her struggle to make peace with two men who have kept her on the edges of their orbits.”—More


“A prodigal son returns in brilliant ‘Gilead’ sequel”—Bookpage

The Barnes & Noble Review
Had she not become a writer, it is easy to imagine Marilynne Robinson might have been a theologian instead. Or, perhaps it is fair to say that she is both. Throughout her concise body of work, Robinson has mined the traditions of American spiritual literature, harkening back to an earlier cultural landscape where religion, and American Protestantism in particular, didn't carry with it its current political animus -- the evangelical's fervor versus the ironist's disdain. Robinson, in her essay collection The Death of Adam, has been blunt about her interest in restoring the legacy of Calvinism and about the family as its site of restoration. There is, throughout her prose, a heightened sensitivity to the possibility of grace, and of human connection as its own kind of redemption. "Imagine that someone failed and disgraced came back to his family," she writes in her essay "Family," "and they grieved with him, and took his sadness upon themselves, and sat down together to ponder the deep mysteries of human life. This is more human and more beautiful, I propose, even if it yields no dulling of pain, no patching of injuries." In a way, Home is this imagining -- a novel no less nuanced, no less morally conflicted for the current of devotion that forms its center.

Home takes its place alongside Robinson's 2004 novel Gilead. Less its sequel than its counterpart, it tells the concurrent story, set in 1956, of Reverend Robert Boughton, best friend to Gilead's narrator, John Ames. Where Gilead was a self-reckoning in the guise of an epistolary novel -- it takes the form of a letter to Ames's young son -- Home is a structurally more traditional, simmering novel about the fragility, and endurance, of familial bonds. Here, Ames recedes into the background as Robinson shifts her focus to Boughton's wayward son Jack, who has returned home after a 20-year absence just as his father's health begins to fall into an irreparable decline. Jack will be familiar to readers of Gilead; in that novel, he played Ames's moral foil, the man whose presence reveals the blind spots in the reverend's seemingly boundless capacity for grace. Also returned to the family homestead is Jack's younger sister Glory, who has come to nurse the ailing Boughton and, more painfully, to seek refuge from a failed engagement. The coincidence of their homecomings gives rise to an unlikely friendship between the two siblings; Glory, with her preternatural sensitivity, proves the only person able to draw out Jack, whose guarded manner and sardonic evasions do little to conceal the ravages of his alcoholism and troubled childhood.

Robinson's nonfiction tends to offer safe harbor for some of history's scorned souls: figures like John Brown, John Calvin, and Karl Marx, whose legacies, she feels, have done them wrong. Though hardly a figure of historic import, Jack Boughton has his place here, too -- he is a man who, after Ames's fraught indictment over the course of Gilead, would seem to need his own literary rehabilitation. In Ames's portrait, Jack "doesn't have the look of a man who has made good use of himself," whereas for Glory this very wastedness is a spur to compassion, however wary:

Twenty years was long enough to make a stranger of someone she had known far better than this brother of hers, and here he was in her kitchen, pale and ill at ease and in no state to receive the kindness prepared for him, awaiting him, even then wilting and congealing into the worst he could have meant by the word "lunch." And what an ugly word that was anyway.

Like Robinson, her characters are attuned to the latent cruelties of language. The Boughton household is one in which emotional openness must compensate for verbal withholding. Even more than Housekeeping and Gilead, Home is a novel that operates by elision (perhaps because, unlike the two prior works, Home is written in the third person). This desultory quality is as much a result of Robinson's delicately tender prose as it is the inwardness of her characters. Glory, whose perspective largely governs the narrative, is circumspect about her own past. While the specifics of her fiancé's betrayal are never quite laid out in full, her homecoming nonetheless marks a stark counterpoint to the life she had imagined: "She had dreamed of a real home for herself and the babies, and the fiancé, a home very different from this good and blessed and fustian and oppressive tabernacle of Boughton probity and kind intent."

Kindness is invoked by the Boughton family with an almost incantatory repetition -- Jack, in particular, acknowledges his sister's gestures of care as a way to close out conversation. "Thanks, Glory. That's kind," Jack will say, releasing her from any attempt to absolve the sins of his younger days just as the dialogue begins to touch upon the wrongdoings of his past. This is not to say Jack is insincere -- quite the contrary, as Robinson is a master of authorial empathy -- but that his family's forgiveness is as much a source of pain as it is a relief. Jack seems incapable of believing himself worthy of the unconditional love his sister and father, still devout Presbyterians where his own religious upbringing has failed him, offer so unabashedly.

Home is, in many regards, flesh on the skeletal plot of Gilead. Where Gilead looked backward into the Midwest's abolitionist past, Home tends to linger in the present. Again setting her novel on the cusp of the social upheavals of the 1960s, Robinson this time pulls the politics of the age into a more ready backdrop. As we know from Gilead (but Glory and Reverend Boughton do not), Jack's common-law wife, Della, from whom he has separated under pressure from her family and the force of his own dissipation, is black. The incursion of a television into the household brings the simmering conflict between father and son -- a difference in worldview and temperament without any tangible cause -- to a head. When Jack grows indignant over a news report about what can only be Autherine Lucy's expulsion from the University of Alabama in that year, the reverend's best attempt at diplomacy is to remark, "I have nothing against the colored people. I do think they're going to need to improve themselves, though, if they want to be accepted." As she has so often over the course of her work, Robinson appears to be again offering a subtle jab at the failure of contemporary Protestantism to make good on the progressive legacy of its abolitionist forebears.

Home is not in any strict sense a political novel, but one that takes place unavoidably in a world whose complexity is beginning to outstrip what the Boughtons' Presbyterian upbringing has prepared them to accommodate. Jack and Glory, bonded together by the failures of their respective pasts, share a sense of "the gradual catastrophe" of entry into the broader world. Robinson puts forth her own question: "What does it mean to come home?" For both the Boughton children, there is no easy answer. Their return to Gilead, to a life and time rich in the solace of forgiveness and grace, is as likely to reopen old wounds as it is to prove a source of healing. But this is what Robinson understands so well: the warmth of her prose becomes a form of communion with the characters she has created, an enactment of the mercy she would have them show one another. Hers is a vision more human, and more beautiful, for her willingness to take their sadnesses upon herself and to grieve with them. --Amelia Atlas

Amelia Atlas's reviews have appeared in the New York Sun, 02138, and the Harvard Book Review.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312428549
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Series: Gilead Series, #2
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 27,413
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson is the author of Gilead, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Housekeeping, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Home received the Orange Prize, the L.A. Times Book Prize, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Robinson’s nonfiction books include Absence of Mind, The Death of Adam, and Mother Country, which was nominated for a National Book Award. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Iowa City.

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    1. Hometown:
      Iowa City, Iowa
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 26, 1943
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sandpoint, Idaho
    1. Education:
      B.A., Brown University, 1966

Read an Excerpt

"Home to stay, Glory! Yes!" her father said, and her heart sank. He attempted a twinkle of joy at this thought, but his eyes were damp with commiseration. "To stay for a while this time!" he amended, and took her bag from her, first shifting his cane to his weaker hand. Dear God, she thought, dear God in heaven. So began and ended all her prayers these days, which were really cries of amazement. How could her father be so frail? And how could he be so recklessly intent on satisfying his notions of gentlemanliness, hanging his cane on the railing of the stairs so he could, dear God, carry her bag up to her room? But he did it, and then he stood by the door, collecting himself.

"This is the nicest room. According to Mrs. Blank." He indicated the windows. "Cross ventilation. I don’t know. They all seem nice to me." He laughed. "Well, it’s a good house." The house embodied for him the general blessedness of his life, which was manifest, really indisputable. And which he never failed to acknowledge, especially when it stood over against particular sorrow. Even more frequently after their mother died he spoke of the house as if it were an old wife, beautiful for every comfort it had offered, every grace, through all the long years. It was a beauty that would not be apparent to every eye. It was too tall for the neighborhood, with a flat face and a flattened roof and peaked brows over the windows. "Italianate," her father said, but that was a guess, or a rationalization. In any case, it managed to look both austere and pretentious despite the porch her father had had built on the front of it to accommodate the local taste for socializing in the hot summer evenings, and which had become overgrown by an immense bramble of trumpet vines. It was a good house, her father said, meaning that it had a gracious heart however awkward its appearance. And now the gardens and the shrubbery were disheveled, as he must have known, though he rarely ventured beyond the porch.

Not that they had been especially presentable even while the house was in its prime. Hide-and-seek had seen to that, and croquet and badminton and baseball. "Such times you had!" her father said, as if the present slight desolation were confetti and candy wrappers left after the passing of some glorious parade. And there was the oak tree in front of the house, much older than the neighborhood or the town, which made rubble of the pavement at its foot and flung its imponderable branches out over the road and across the yard, branches whose girths were greater than the trunk of any ordinary tree. There was a torsion in its body that made it look like a giant dervish to them. Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread its arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa. There had once been four swings suspended from those branches, announcing to the world the fruitfulness of their household. The oak tree flourished still, and of course there had been and there were the apple and cherry and apricot trees, the lilacs and trumpet vines and the day lilies. A few of her mother’s irises managed to bloom. At Easter she and her sisters could still bring in armfuls of flowers, and their father’s eyes would glitter with tears and he would say, "Ah yes, yes," as if they had brought some memento, these flowers only a pleasant reminder of flowers.

Why should this staunch and upright house seem to her so abandoned? So heartbroken? The eye of the beholder, she thought. Still, seven of her father’s children came home as often as they could manage to, and telephoned, and sent notes and gifts and crates of grapefruit. Their own children, from the time they could grasp a crayon and scrawl, were taught to remember Grandpa, then Great-grandpa. Parishioners and their children and grandchildren looked in on her father with a faithfulness that would have taxed his strength if the new minister had not hinted at the problem. And there was Ames, her father’s alter ego, in whom he had confided so long and so utterly that he was a second father to them all, not least in the fact of knowing more about them than was entirely consistent with their comfort. Sometimes they made their father promise not to tell anyone, by which he knew they meant Reverend Ames, since he was far too discreet to repeat any confidence, except in the confessional of Ames’s stark bachelor kitchen, where, they suspected, such considerations were forgotten. And what was their father not to tell? How they informed on Jack, telling him what Jack had said, what Jack had done or seemed inclined to do.

"I have to know," their father said. "For his sake." So they told on their poor scoundrel brother, who knew it, and was irritated and darkly amused, and who kept them informed or misinformed and inspired urgent suspicions among them which they felt they had to pass on, whatever their misgivings, to spare their father having to deal with the sheriff again. They were not the kind of children to carry tales. They observed a strict code against it among themselves, in fact, and they made an exception of Jack only because they were afraid to do otherwise. "Will they put him in jail?" they asked one another miserably when the mayor’s son found his hunting rifle in their barn. If they had only known, they could have returned it and spared their father surprise and humiliation. At least with a little warning he could have composed himself, persuaded himself to feel something less provocative than pure alarm.

But no, they did not put him in jail. Jack, standing beside his father, made yet another apology and agreed to sweep the steps of the city hall every morning for a week. And he did leave the house early every morning. Leaves and maple wings accumulated at city hall until the week was over and the mayor swept them up. No. His father would always intercede for him. The fact that his father was his father usually made intercession unnecessary. And that boy could apologize as fluently as any of the rest of the Boughtons could say the Apostles’ Creed.

A decade of betrayals, minor and major, was made worse by awareness on every side that they were all constantly alert to transgression and its near occasion, and made worse still by the fact that Jack never repaid them in kind, though this may only have been because their own mischief was too minor to interest him. To say they shared a bad conscience about Jack to this day would be to overstate the matter a little. No doubt he had his own reasons for staying away all these years, refusing all contact with them. Assuming, please God, he was alive. It was easy to imagine in retrospect that Jack might have tired of it all, even though they knew he made a somber game of it. Sometimes he had seemed to wish he could simply trust a brother, a sister. They remembered that from time to time he had been almost candid, had spoken almost earnestly. Then he would laugh, but that might have been embarrassment.

They were attentive to their father all those years later, in part because they were mindful of his sorrow. And they were very kind to one another, and jovial, and fond of recalling good times and looking through old photographs so that their father would laugh and say, "Yes, yes, you were quite a handful." All this might have been truer because of bad conscience, or, if not that, of a grief that felt like guilt. Her good, kind, and jovial siblings were good, kind, and jovial consciously and visibly. Even as children they had been good in fact, but also in order to be seen as good. There was something disturbingly like hypocrisy about it all, though it was meant only to compensate for Jack, who was so conspicuously not good as to cast a shadow over their household. They were as happy as their father could wish, even happier. Such gaiety! And their father laughed at it all, danced with them to the Victrola, sang with them around the piano. Such a wonderful family they were! And Jack, if he was there at all, looked on and smiled and took no part in any of it.

Now, as adults, they were so careful to gather for holidays that Glory had not seen the house empty and quiet in years, since she was a girl. Even when the others had all gone off to school her mother was there, and her father was still vigorous enough to make a little noise in the house with coming and going, singing, grumbling. "I don’t know why he has to slam that door!" her mother would say, when he was off to tend to some pastoral business or to play checkers with Ames. He almost skipped down the steps. The matter of Jack and the girl and her baby stunned him, winded him, but he was still fairly robust, full of purpose. Then, after his frailty finally overwhelmed him, and after their mother died, there was still the throng of family, the bantering and bickering child cousins who distracted and disrupted adult conversation often enough to ward off inquiry into the specifics of her own situation. Still teaching, still engaged to be married, yes, long engagements are best. Twice the fiancé had actually come home with her, had shaken hands all around and smiled under their tactful scrutiny. He had been in their house. He could stay only briefly, but he had met her father, who claimed to like him well enough, and this had eased suspicions a little. Theirs and hers. Now here she was alone with poor old Papa, sad old Papa, upon whose shoulder much of Presbyterian Gilead above the age of twenty had at some time wept. No need to say anything, and no hope of concealing anything either.

The town seemed different to her, now that she had returned there to live. She was thoroughly used to Gilead as the subject and scene of nostalgic memory. How all the brothers and sisters except

Jack had loved to come home, and how ready they always were to leave again. How dear the old place and the old stories were to them, and how far abroad they had scattered. The past was a very fine thing, in its place. But her returning now, to stay, as her father said, had turned memory portentous. To have it overrun its bounds this way and become present and possibly future, too—they all knew this was a thing to be regretted. She rankled at the thought of their commiseration.

Most families had long since torn down their outbuildings and sold off their pastures. Smaller houses in later styles had sprung up between them in sufficient numbers to make the old houses look increasingly out of place. The houses of Gilead had once stood on small farmsteads with garden patches and berry patches and henhouses, with woodsheds, rabbit hutches, and barns for the cow or two, the horse or two. These were simply the things life required. It was the automobile that changed that, her father said. People didn’t have to provide for themselves the way they once did. It was a loss—there was nothing like chicken droppings to make flowers thrive.

Boughtons, who kept everything, had kept their land, their empty barn, their useless woodshed, their unpruned orchard and horseless pasture. There on the immutable terrain of their childhood her brothers and sisters could and did remember those years in great detail, their own memories, but more often the pooled memory they saw no special need to portion out among them. They looked at photographs and went over the old times and laughed, and their father was well pleased.

Boughton property lay behind the house in a broad strip that spanned two blocks, now that the town had grown and spread enough to have blocks. For years a neighbor—they still called him Mr. Trotsky because Luke, home from college, had called him that—planted alfalfa on half of it, and her father sometimes tried to find words for his irritation about this. "If he would just ask me," he said. She was too young at the time to understand the alfalfa putsch, and she was in college when she began to see what R the old stories meant, that they were really the stirring and smoldering of old fires that had burned furiously elsewhere. It pleased her to think that Gilead was part of the world she read about, and she wished she had known Mr. Trotsky and his wife, but old as they were, they had abandoned Gilead to its folly in a fit of indignation about which no one knew the particulars, just at the end of her sophomore year.

The land that was the battlefield would have been unused if the neighbor had not farmed it, and alfalfa was good for the soil, and the joke and perhaps the fact was that the neighbor, who seemed otherwise unemployed and who railed against the cash nexus, donated his crop to a rural cousin, who in exchange donated to him a certain amount of money. In any case, her father could never finally persuade himself that objection was called for. The neighbor was also an agnostic and probably spoiling for an ethical argument. Her father seemed to feel he could not risk losing another one of those, after the embarrassing episode when he tried to prevent the town from putting a road through his land, on no better grounds than that his father would have opposed it, and his grandfather. He had realized this during a long night when his belief in the rightness of his position dissipated like mist, under no real scrutiny. There was simply the moment, a little after 10:00 p.m., when the realization came, and then the seven hours until dawn. His case looked no better by daylight, so he wrote a letter to the mayor, simple and dignified, making no allusion to the phrase "grasping hypocrite," which he had thought he heard the mayor mutter after him as he walked away from a conversation he had considered pleasant enough. He told all of them about this at the dinner table and used it more than once as a sermon illustration, since he did devoutly believe that when the Lord gave him moral instruction it was not for his use only.

Each spring the agnostic neighbor sat his borrowed tractor with the straight back and high shoulders of a man ready to be challenged. Unsociable as he was, he called out heartily to passersby like a man with nothing to hide, intending, perhaps, to make the Reverend Boughton know, and know the town at large knew, too, that he was engaged in trespass. This is the very act against which Christians leveraged the fate of their own souls, since they were, if they listened to their own prayers, obliged to forgive those who trespassed against them.

Her father lived in a visible state of irritation until the crop was in, but he was willing to concede the point. He knew the neighbor was holding him up to public embarrassment year after year, seed time and harvest, not only to keep fresh the memory of his ill-considered opposition to the road, but also to be avenged in some small degree for the whole, in his agnostic view unbroken, history of religious hypocrisy.

Once, five of the six younger Boughtons—Jack was elsewhere— played a joyless and determined game of fox and geese in the tender crop of alfalfa, the beautiful alfalfa, so green it was almost blue, so succulent that a mist stood on its tiny leaves even in the middle of the day. They were not conscious of the craving for retaliation until Dan ran out into the field to retrieve a baseball, and Teddy ran after him, and Hope and Gracie and Glory after them. Somebody shouted fox and geese, and they all ran around to make the great circle, and then to make the diameters, breathless, the clover breaking so sweetly under their feet that they repented of the harm they were doing even as they persisted in it. They slid and fell in the vegetable mire and stained their knees and their hands, until the satisfactions of revenge were outweighed in their hearts by the knowledge that they were deeply in trouble. They played on until they were called to supper. When they trooped into the kitchen in a reek of child sweat and bruised alfalfa, their mother made a sharp sound in her throat and called, "Robert, look what we have here." The slight satisfaction in their father’s face confirmed what they dreaded, that he saw the opportunity to demonstrate Christian humility in such an unambiguous form that the neighbor could feel it only as rebuke.

He said, "Of course you will have to apologize." He looked almost stern, only a little amused, only a little gratified. "You had better get it over with," he said. As they knew, an apology freely offered would have much more effect than one that might seem coerced by the offended party, and since the neighbor was a short-tempered man, the balance of relative righteousness could easily tip against them. So the five of them walked by way of the roads to the other side of the block. Somewhere along the way Jack caught up and walked along with them, as if penance must always include him.

They knocked at the door of the small brown house and the wife opened it. She seemed happy enough to see them, and not at all surprised. She asked them in, mentioning with a kind of regret the smell of cooking cabbage. The house was sparsely furnished and crowded with books, magazines, and pamphlets, the arrangements having a provisional feeling though the couple had lived there for years. There were pictures pinned to the walls of bearded, unsmiling men and women with rumpled hair and rimless glasses.

Teddy said, "We’re here to apologize."

She nodded. "You trampled the field. I know that. He knows, too. I’ll tell him you have come." She spoke up the stairs, perhaps in a foreign language, listened for a minute to nothing audible, and came back to them. "To destroy is a great shame," she said.

"To destroy for no reason." Teddy said, "That is our field. I mean, my father does own it."

"Poor child!" she said. "You know no better than this, to speak of owning land when no use is made of it. Owning land just to keep it from others. That is all you learn from your father the priest! Mine, mine, mine! While he earns his money from the ignorance of the people!" She waved a slender arm and a small fist. "Telling his foolish lies again and again while everywhere the poor suffer!"

They had never heard anyone speak this way before, certainly not to them or about them. She stared at them to drive her point home. There was convincing rage and righteousness in her eyes, watery blue as they were, and Jack laughed.

"Oh yes," she said, "I know who you are. The boy thief, the boy drunkard! While your father tells the people how to live! He deserves you!" Then, "Why so quiet? You have never heard the truth before?"

Daniel, the oldest of them, said, "You shouldn’t talk that way. If you were a man, I’d probably have to hit you."

"Hah! Yes, you good Christians, you come into my house to threaten violence! I will report you to the sheriff. There is a little justice, even in America!" She waved her fist again.

Jack laughed. He said, "It’s all right. Let’s go home." And she said, "Yes, listen to your brother. He knows about the sheriff!"

So they trooped out the door, which was slammed after them, and filed home in the evening light absorbing what they had heard. They agreed that the woman was crazy and her husband, too. Still, vengefulness stirred in them, and there was talk of breaking windows, letting air out of tires. Digging a pit so large and well concealed that the neighbor and his tractor would both fall in. And there would be spiders at the bottom, and snakes. And when he yelled for help they would lower a ladder with the rungs sawed through so that they would break under his weight. Ah, the terrible glee among the younger ones, while the older ones absorbed the fact that they had heard their family insulted and had done nothing about it.

They walked into their own kitchen, and there were their mother and father, waiting to hear their report. They told them that they didn’t speak to the man, but the woman had yelled at them and had called their father a priest.

"Well," their mother said, "I hope you were polite."

They shrugged and looked at each other. Gracie said, "We just sort of stood there."

Jack said, "She was really mean. She even said you deserved me."

Her father’s eyes stung. He said, "Did she say that? Well now, that was kind of her. I will be sure to thank her. I hope I do deserve you, Jack. All of you, of course." That tireless tenderness of his, and Jack’s unreadable quiet in the face of it.

Mr. Trotsky planted potatoes and squash the next year, corn the year after that. A nephew of the rural cousin came to help him with his crop, and in time was given the use of the field and built a small house on one corner of it and brought a wife there, and they had children. More beds of marigolds, another flapping clothesline, another roof pitched under heaven to shelter human hope and frailty. The Boughtons tacitly ceded all claim.

Excerpted from Home by Marilynne Robinson

Copyright © 2008 by Marilynne Robinson

Published in September 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. What does "home" mean to Robert Boughton and his children? What does the Boughton house signify to his family? With whom do they feel most at home?

2. How does Glory's opinion of Jack change throughout the novel? What enables them to trust each other? In what ways is that trust strained? How does their relationship compare to yours with your siblings?

3. How is the Boughton household affected by the presence of a television set? How does this reflect a shift that took place in many households throughout America in the 1950s? Were you surprised by Robert Boughton's comments about African Americans, and by his reaction to the televised race riots?

4. Why do you think Robert loves Jack best, despite Jack's shortcomings? What is your understanding of Jack's wayward behavior? How would you have responded to his theological questions regarding redemption?

5. Discuss the friendship between John Ames and Robert Boughton. What has sustained it for so many years? How did they nurture each other's intellectual lives, approaching life from Congregationalist and Presbyterian perspectives?

6. What did Glory's mother teach her about the role of women? How was the Boughton family affected by the death of its matriarch?

7. How do the Boughtons view prosperity and charity? What is reflected in the way Glory handles the household finances, with leftover money stored in the piano bench? What is the nature of Jack's interest in Marxism? What is demonstrated in the incident of the book on England's working classes (the stolen library volume that Robert Boughton considered dull)?

8. How do the themes of deception and integrity play out in the novel? Are all of the characters honest with themselves? Which secrets, in the novel and in life, are justified?

9. What does Jack do with the memory of his out-of-wedlock daughter? Does his father have an accurate understanding of that chapter in Jack's life?

10. How are Glory, Jack, and Robert affected by Teddy's visit? What accounts for the "anxiety, and relief, and resentment" Glory feels regarding Teddy's arrival (p. 253)?

11. Discuss Ames's provocative sermon, which Jack paraphrases as a discussion of "the disgraceful abandonment of children by their fathers" (p. 206) based on the narrative of Hagar and Ishmael. To what degree are parents responsible for the actions of their children, and vice versa?

12. What aspects of romantic love are reflected in Home? How does Glory cope with her ill-fated engagement? Is Jack very different from Glory's fiancé? What do the Boughtons think of John Ames's marriage to Lila?

13. How did you react to Della's arrival? What legacy and memories will define her son? What common ground did Jack and Della share, fostering love?

14. Hymns provide a meaningful background throughout the novel. What do their words and melodies convey?

15. In terms of religion, what beliefs do Glory, Jack, and Robert agree upon? What do they seek to know about God and the nature of humanity? What answers do they find?

16. What distinctions did you detect between the way John Ames described Jack in Gilead and the portrayal of Jack in Home? What are the similarities and differences between the Ames and Boughton households? What accounts for the fact that families can inhabit nearly identical milieux but experience life in profoundly different ways?

17. Do towns like Gilead still exist? Are pastors like Ames and Boughton common in contemporary America?

18. Discuss the homecomings that have made a significant impact on your life. How much forgiveness has been necessary across the generations in your family?

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Plainsong by Kent Haruf
The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Three Daughters by Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Postcards by E. Annie Proulx
The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 56 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 56 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Hated it

    Well, the cover gave me warm fuzzies, and reading the back of the book sounded interesting. This book was "forced" on me by my book club,it was the the selection of the month. I probably would have stopped at page 50 or earlier if it was for just my enjoyment. First of all, the book has no chapters, which just about put me over the edge. It also gave me no "little reward" for completing an agonizing section of the book. The book was very boring and full of very lengthy sentences. I kept hoping for something close toexciting to happen, but it never did. If you are loking for a page turner, or a thriller, or some action, this is not the book for you.

    4 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    a sad but deeply touching tale

    Home by Marilynne Robinson (Book Review)
    The novel Home by Marilynne Robinson won the Orange Prize 2009. Its ISBN is 1844085503 and it is published by Virago Press. It is a sad and slow moving book but rich in characterisation and in human understanding. It is set in the 1950s in Gilead where a brother and sister return as adults to live in the family home. Glory comes home to nurse her dying father and Jack the prodigal son returns home in search of reconcilation and inner peace. Each of their stories unfold slowly. Jack and Glory form a bond and acquire an understanding of each other and a mutual understanding of the burden of parental expectations. Glory accepts her role as preserver of the home and teachs Jack love and self respect. It is a beautiful tale of hope and redemption written in magnificently descriptive prose. This book will become a classic novel read for generations. Reviewed by Annette Dunlea author of Always and Forever and The Honey Trap.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    At Times Hauntingly Beautiful, At Times Incredibly Slow

    I was deeply moved by parts of this book, yet I was often bored as the plot seemed to take forever to unfold. The characters were unforgettable and they are what kept me reading no matter how slow the book moved. The writing style was sometimes unclear, sometimes almost lyrical. I suppose the best description of my reaction is that I loved the book and I didn't. I would be interested in reading something else by Marilynne Robinson, but it will probably not be at the top of my To-Be-Read list.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2009

    Home; great to read with Gilead

    Home involves the same characters as Robinson's excellent-and superior-Gilead, narrating events from the perspective of Glory Boughton as she tries to manage her ailing minister father and her mysterious prodigal brother Jack who hasn't been home in decades. He's wrestling with his demons of drink, crime and awkward conversation. Most of Home is composed of those conversations: the stuttering between generations, siblings and lovers. Glory has a fiance in her past who sent her hundreds of letters. Jack awaits a letter from his estranged wife in Memphis. The ambivalence of communication, the uncertainty of forgiveness (everyone apologizes, but few signs of grace) and being exiled from one's 'home' complement the existential themes of Gilead. The book suffers from odd dialogue--Rev Boughton sounds like Grandpa Abe Simpson--and our frustration with self-hating Jack. The most moving scenes occur toward the end and are enhanced by events that one only knows from reading Gilead. Read both!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 20, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Well written, beautifully told, and amazing characters

    I struggle to find the words appropriate to priase this book. It, along with its companion, Gilead, are two of the finest books I have read. The prose is gorgeous. I found myself slowing down to make sure I could soak in every word and phrase. It took my longer to read this than most books I have read of similar length because I regularly read and re-read several passages so that I fully appreciated the beauty of the words. I hated for either of them to end.

    The two books combined illustrate the falibility and perfection of human nature and the illusion that perception does in fact equal reality.

    I have two wishes; that I could start over and read these both for the first time all over again and that Marilynne Robinson had written more books for me to read!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Home - Another Treat from Robinson

    If you enjoyed Robinson's previous books, you will like this one also. Reading Home is for savoring each page - basking in her beautiful language, contemplating her ideas. Thank goodness it is NOT a page turner because I wanted it to never end!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

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    Again, another book I just couldn't get into caring about these characters.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 29, 2014

    ¿You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you

    “You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding”

    Home is the second book in the Gilead series by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marilynne Robinson, and is set in Gilead, Iowa at the same time as the first book. This book focusses on Reverend Robert Boughton (closest friend of Reverend John Ames), and his family. Thirty-eight-year-old Glory Boughton, with a failed engagement behind her, returns to Gilead to look after her ailing father, Robert. A letter arrives, and Glory worries about the effect it will have on her father: “…the note might really be from Jack, but upsetting somehow, written from a ward for the chronically vexatious, the terminally remiss”. 

    Eventually, her disreputable brother Jack, an unemployed alcoholic, returns home after twenty years of virtual silence. Her father is pleased to see this favoured child again, one who went from “a restless, distant, difficult boy” to what Jack himself admits: “….nothing but trouble…….I create a kind of displacement around myself as I pass through the world, which can fairly be called trouble”. Jack is not the only one with secrets in his past, and he and Glory form a bond. His reconnection with his godfather and namesake, Reverend John Ames does not proceed smoothly. 

    They think back on their youth in the family home: “Experience had taught them that truth has sharp edges and hard corners, and could be seriously at odds with kindness” and “…lying in that family meant only that the liar would appreciate discretion…..as a matter of courtesy they treated one another’s deceptions like truth, which was a different thing from deceiving, or being deceived”. Glory is less than pleased to be in Gilead and dreads the thought of spending the rest of her days there: “To have [the past] overrun its bounds this way and become present and possibly future, too – they all knew this was a thing to be regretted” 

    Robinson treats the reader to some marvellous descriptive prose: “Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread it arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa”. She touches on the question of racial prejudice and also includes some hints about the life Lila led before Gilead, a subject expanded on in the third book in this series. While this novel is somewhat slow in places, it is a stirring read and the final pages will move many readers to tears.  4.5 stars

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 7, 2009

    All about home

    I liked Robinson's previous book, Gilead, and I enjoyed this book as well. Love, family forgiveness, religion (the best and worst of it) and guilt are themes that Robinson, with her very capable writing, handles well in this novel. Many of the characters are lovable, some are not, an the mix is just right.

    Though there was a melancholic and sometimes depressing tone to this book, it was enjoyable just the same. The relationship between Glory and Jack is a wonderful study in humanness, and I found myself contemplating both of their personalities and hidden desires and fears.

    The story unfolded a bit on the slow side, but still it held my attention from beginning to end.

    I will read Robinson's next works for certain.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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