Review: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

I had no idea there was another book coming for Robinson’s stellar Gilead series until shortly before this book released, but I was thrilled to get an ARC of Jack.

What it’s about:

From the Goodreads blurb:

Jack tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the beloved, erratic, and grieved-over prodigal son of a Presbyterian minister in Gilead, Iowa. In segregated St. Louis sometime after World War II, Jack falls in love with Della Miles, an African American high school teacher who is also the daughter of a preacher―discerning, generous, and independent. Their fraught, beautiful romance is one of Robinson’s greatest achievements.

The Gilead novels are about the dilemmas and promise of American history―about the ongoing legacy of the Civil War and the enduring impact of both racial inequality and deep-rooted religious belief. They touch the deepest chords in our national character and resonate with our deepest feelings.

While the original three novels of the Gilead series can probably be read as standalones, I always recommend reading them in order for the beautiful way that Robinson developed the various characters through each book. While one could read this book without having read any other novels in the series, I’m really not sure if I would have appreciated Jack nearly as much if I hadn’t already read Home.

My thoughts:

Marilynne Robinson is a gifted writer. Her prose is fantastic and quiet, and her books have evoked so many feelings for me. Jack is, as expected, a beautifully told, simple story. Jack Boughton, who we got to know well in Home, is a complex character who frustrates the hell out of me while also charming my socks off (I, for one, understand the appeal for Della) and making my heart hurt. The story is told in third person, but Robinson still manages to take us deep inside Jack’s troubled mind. I don’t understand him any more than I did after reading Home, but I still feel like I know him better. Della is more of a mystery to the reader, but she’s so smart and determined, it’s impossible not to admire her.

The book is set before the events of Home, sometime shortly after WWII in segregated St. Louis, where Jack is living on the fringes of ‘normal’ society – a self-described bum, alcoholic, and sometimes-criminal – when he meets and falls for Della, a brilliant, independent teacher. Their love story develops slowly, and the odds are stacked completely against them, even if Jack himself wasn’t a mess. Their interracial relationship in a time when such was literally illegal gives the reader a glimpse at the hardships and discrimination faced by people in that time that, sadly, still resonates today.

Like the other books in the Gilead series, Jack is an introspective, melancholy read. It deals with complicated moral and spiritual themes, and it’s packed with emotion. I listened to an interview with Marilynn Robinson recently where she said this: “Nothing is minor… there is no meaningless human experience, there is no small life.  Meaning is situated differently in different experiences.” This truth resonates throughout the Gilead novels, and has made for truly memorable reading experiences for me. Nothing much actually happens plot-wise, and when it does, it’s slow to develop, but I’m just so engrossed in the lives of these characters, I don’t even notice.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for my ARC copy in exchange for this honest review. I’m ordering a copy for my shelves to complete my Gilead collection.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s