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Pickle Me This

January 25, 2021

Jack, by Marilynne Robinson

It took me so long (by my standards; yours might be different) to finish reading Jack, Marilynne Robinson’s latest book in her series that began with Gilead. I started reading on Wednesday, feeling like it seemed a good day to read a great American novelist, but I just had all the feelings that day and was exhausted, and wasn’t in a great place to begin a book that asked much of its reader, even if it delivered rewards in return. This is not a book with a furious plot, or much of a plot at all if you consider that predestination renders plot kind of moot. This is the story of John Ames Boughton, disgraced and formerly of Gilead, IA, whose story we know from previous books in the series (and this book is the final). Though, truth be told, I don’t remember very much about the other books in the series, not specifically. I have read most of them twice, but I recall them more in general than specifically. But I didn’t need the references much at all to appreciate the value of Jack, whose protagonist is cut off from his past anyway—but not entirely. And what he’s been up to gets told in kind of a sideways manner, Jack never the kind of person to confront anything head-on. Out of prison, just barely getting by in an down-and-out rooming house, he has come into the company of a young Black school-teacher who is, like him, the child of a preacher, and the two are drawn together for reasons that Robinson manages to make complete sense of, no matter what a terrible idea their relationship is for reasons of legality and otherwise. Because of course a white man and a Black woman cannot be a couple in 1950s’ America, and Jack Boughton a terrible bet anyway—and yet you’d wager. That’s what I love about this book. The way that Robinson makes clear the anguish of being Jack and loving Jack, and of watching him make terrible choices over and over again, and there is just a kernel of goodness we’re determined to put there (and so is Jack’s father, and Della too, the school teacher), even if Jack doesn’t seem it himself.

Slow, rich, and satisfying, is how I found this book. There was something soothing in its meditativeness and it as a pleasure to get lost in its evocations.

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