Housekeeping (novel)

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Housekeeping (1980) is a novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson.

Sisters Ruthie and Lucille are left at their grandmother's house, and their mother never returns for them. The grandmother raises the two little girls, and after she dies, two elderly relatives take over the task. But then their Aunt Sylvie returns to take care of the girls.

  • To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a

berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know anything so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is foreshadowing -- the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.

  • This document explained my aunt Molly’s departure to my whole satisfaction.

Even now I always imagine her leaning from the low side of some small boat, dropping her net through the spumy billows of the upper air. Her net would sweep the turning world unremarked as a wind in the grass, and when she began to pull it in, perhaps in a pell-mell ascension of formal gentlemen and thin pigs and old women and odd socks that would astonish this lower world, she would gather the net, so easily, until the very burden itself lay all in a heap just under the surface. One last pull of measureless power and ease would spill her catch into the boat, gasping and amazed, gleaming rainbows in the rarer light.

Such a net, such a harvesting, would put an end to all anomaly. If it swept the whole floor of heaven, it must, finally, sweep the black floor of Fingerbone, too. From there, we must imagine, would arise a great army of paleolithic and neolithic frequenters of the lake-berry gatherers and hunters and strayed children from those and all subsequent eons, down to the earliest present, to the faith-healing lady in the long, white robe who rowed a quarter of a mile out and tried to walk back in again just at sunrise, to the farmer who bet five dollars one spring that the ice was still strong enough for him to gallop his horse across. Add to them the swimmers, the boaters and canoers, and in such a crowd my mother would hardly seem remarkable. There would be a general reclaiming of fallen buttons and misplaced spectacles, of neighbors and kin, till time and error and accident were undone, and the world became comprehensible and whole. Sylvie said that in fact Molly had gone to work as a bookkeeper in a missionary hospital. It was perhaps only from watching gulls fly like sparks up the face of clouds that dragged rain the length of the lake that I imagined such an enterprise might succeed. Or it was from watching gnats sail out of the grass, or from watching some discarded leaf gleaming at the top of the wind. Ascension seemed at such times a natural law. If one added to it a law of completion--that everything must finally be made comprehensible--then some general rescue of the sort I imagined my aunt to have undertaken would be inevitable. For why do our thoughts turn to some gesture of a hand, the fall of a sleeve, some corner of a room on a particular anonymous afternoon, even when we are asleep, and even when we are so old that our thoughts have abandoned other business? What are all these fragments for, if not to be knit up finally?

  • Once, Lucille and I walked beside the train to the shore. There had been a

freezing rain that glazed the snow with a crust of ice, and we found that, when the sun went down, the crust was thick enough for us to walk on. So we followed the train at a distance of twenty feet or so, falling now and then, because the glazed snow swelled and sank in dunes, and the tops of bushes and fence posts rose out of it in places where we did not expect them to be. But by crawling up, and sliding down, and steadying ourselves against the roofs of sheds and rabbit hutches, we managed to stay just abreast of the window of a young woman with a small head and a small hat and a brightly painted face. She wore pearl-gray gloves that reached almost to her elbows, and hooped bracelets that fell down her arms when she reached up to push a loose wisp of hair underneath her hat. The woman looked at the window very often, clearly absorbed by what she saw, which was not but merely seemed to be Lucille and me scrambling to stay beside her, too breathless to shout. When we came to the shore, where the land fell down and the bridge began to rise, we stopped and watched her window sail slowly away, along the abstract arc of the bridge.

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