A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." Ruth and Lucille's struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.
- Pulitzer Prize
Their lives spun off the tilting world like thread off a spindle," says Ruthie, the novel's narrator. The same may be said of Becket Royce's subtle, low-keyed reading. The interwoven themes of loss and love, longing and loneliness--"the wanting never subsided"--require a cool, almost impersonal touch. Royce narrates natural and manmade catastrophe and ruin as the author offers them: with a sort of watery vagueness engulfing extraordinary events. Occasionally this leads Royce to sound sleepy or to glide over humor. But she expresses Ruthie's story without any irksome effort to sound childlike, and she avoids the pitfall of dramatizing other characters, such as the awkward sheriff, the whispery insubstantiality of Aunt Sylvie or the ladies bearing casseroles to lure Ruthie away from Aunt Sylvie and into their concept of normality. Originally published in 1980 and filmed in 1987, Housekeeping is finally on audio because of Robinson's new Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead. The novel holds up remarkably and painfully well, and the language remains searching and sonorous. Anatole Broyard wrote back then: "Here is a first novel that sounds as if the author has been treasuring it up all her life...." And because the author's rhythms, images and diction are so original and dense, this audio is a treasure for listeners who have or haven't read the book. Based on the Picador paperback. (Aug.)
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
October 12, 2004
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