Why read “Jack” by Marilynne Robinson, the last volume of an exciting tetralogy?

In the United States, she is nicknamed “the grandmother of Iowa”, the land of the Midwest in which Gilead, the romantic series that made her famous, is rooted. Yet it was in Idaho that Marilynne Robinson was born in 1943, to parents trading in lumber, who encouraged her literary vocation. In 1981 appears Noah’s House (published in France in 1983), the story of two sisters trying to survive in the wilderness of the American northwest. Although this first novel soon established itself as a classic, it would take twenty-four years for the writer to return to fiction, after devoting herself to her academic career and having published a collection of essays on thought. modern. Doctor of philosophy, Marilynne Robinson draws from the study of Jean Calvin her optimism and her confidence in humanity. Raised in the Presbyterian faith, she became a member of the Congregational Church, interested in traditions, beliefs, the relationship between God, word and spirit.

A source of inspiration for Barack Obama

In a conversation on American history and the role of faith in society, published in 2015 in the New York Review of Books, Barack Obama evokes his interlocutor as a source of inspiration. In 2012, he awarded him the National Humanities Medal for “the grace and intelligence at work in his writing”. A writing nourished by the exploration of the inner life which, with the beauties and rigors of nature, mixes the daily drama of family life.

This family, we meet it in Gilead in the person of the Reverend John Ames. At the twilight of his days, Ames writes a letter to his 7-year-old son, which is intended as the testament of a vanished America and the testimony of the sacred bonds uniting fathers and sons. A “Love Letter to Iowa” also, according to its author, acclaimed by the American press and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. After With us (2009) and Lilac (2015), Jack constitutes the fourth opus of this major work of American letters.

Reverse relationship

Jack is a well-mannered white misfit with a knack for drinking and getting into trouble. He experienced prison and lives haunted by the greatness of soul of a pastor father whom he disappointed. Although he believes he is unsuited to social life, his taste for poetry brings him closer to Della, a black English teacher he meets in the middle of the street. The dinner to which he dares to invite her turns into a disaster. The following year, both find themselves locked up in a cemetery. They tame each other and confide in each other, her and her suppressed anger, he and his desire to isolate himself so as not to harm others. At the end of this night, Jack and Della meet again at random in the city of Saint-Louis, or rather he watches for her, organizing around their encounters the life he is trying to put back on their feet. While she demonstrates a quiet determination, Jack asks himself many moral and religious questions about the meaning of their affair; his long introspection forms the essence of the story.

Marilynne Robinson takes a look full of empathy at this disarmingly sincere protagonist and his upside-down relationship with an African-American whose relatives, a family highly respected in his community, do not consider him worthy. The one who sometimes preaches from the pulpit in her parish in Iowa is careful here of demonstrative parallels with America today or definitive answers about her characters. “Do people change? Where do they find and accept the opportunity to express another side of themselves? Or do they accept the grace of being loved as they are? For me, the question is open. » Jack is all the more profound and captivating.

This article was originally published in Read Literary magazine in June 2022. Find the complete issue on the store of Read Literary magazine .

Why read “Jack” by Marilynne Robinson, the last volume of an exciting tetralogy?

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Why read “Jack” by Marilynne Robinson, the last volume of an exciting tetralogy?