Robinson’s stellar, revelatory fourth entry in her Gilead cycle (after Lila) focuses on Jack Boughton, the prodigal son of a Gilead, Iowa, minister, and the beginnings of his romance with Della Miles before his 1957 return to Gilead in Home. Jack, who disparagingly styles himself “the Prince of Darkness,” finds his life spiraling out of control in St. Louis, where, after dodging the draft during WWII, he spends several years increasingly prone to bouts of heavy drinking, petty theft, and vagrancy. His tailspin is interrupted when he meets Della Miles, an English teacher from a prominent Black family in Memphis. Despite a disastrous first date, the details of which are hinted at in the beginning, and over the numerous objections of Della’s family and white strangers, Jack and Della fall in love, bound by a natural intimacy and mutual love of poetry. Robinson’s masterly prose and musings on faith are on display as usual, and the dialogue is keen and indelible. (“Once in a lifetime, maybe, you look at a stranger and you see a soul, a glorious presence out of place in the world. And if you love God, every choice is made for you,” Della tells Jack.) This is a beautiful, superbly crafted meditation on the redemption and transcendence that love affords. (Sept.)
It's time to say good-bye to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Robinson's beloved Gilead novels with the story of John Ames Boughton, the wayward son of a Presbyterian minister in Gilead. In segregated post-World War II St. Louis, Jack falls for Della Miles, an African American high school teacher and preacher's daughter—and their relationship sums up the ongoing stresses of race relationships in post-Emancipation America. With a 250,000-copy first printing.
A sometimes tender, sometimes fraught story of interracial love in a time of trouble.
“I have never heard of a white man who got so little good out of being a white man.” So chides Della Miles, upbraiding John Ames Boughton at the opening of Robinson’s latest novel, set in an unspecified time, though certainly one of legal racial segregation. Jack hails from Gilead, Iowa, where so many of Robinson’s stories are set, and he has a grave waiting there that he seems in a headlong rush to occupy. He drinks, he steals, he wanders, he’s a vagrant. Now he's in the black part of St. Louis, an object of suspicion and concern, known locally as “That White Man That Keeps Walking Up and Down the Street All the Time.” Della is a schoolteacher, at home in Shakespeare and the classics. Jack is inclined to Milton. He is Presbyterian by birth, she Methodist and pious—but not so much that she can’t laugh when he calls himself the Prince of Darkness. Both are the children of ministers, both smart and self-aware, happy to argue about poetry and predestination in a whites-only graveyard. The arguments continue, both playful and serious, as their love grows and as Jack tries his hand at the workaday world, wearing a tie and working a till—and, more important, not drinking. Pledged to each other like Romeo and Juliet, they suffer being parted more than they do having to deal with the disapproval of others, whether white or black, though Della's father, aunt, brothers, and sister all separately tell Jack to leave her alone, and once, when Jack's landlady finds out that Della is black, she demands that he leave.The reader will by this time doubtless be pulling for them, though also wondering how the proper Della puts up with the definitively scruffy Jack, even if it’s clear that they love each other without reservation. Robinson’s storytelling relies heavily on dialogue, moreso than her other work, and involves only a few scene changes, as if first sketched out as a play. The story flows swiftly—and without a hint of inevitability—as Robinson explores a favorite theme, “guilt and grace met together.”
An elegantly written proof of the thesis that love conquers all—but not without considerable pain.