Book #72

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Jack tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the black sheep of his family, the beloved and grieved-over prodigal son of a Presbyterian minister in Gilead, Iowa, a drunkard and a ne’er-do-well. 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 a preacher’s child, with a discriminating mind, a generous spirit, and an independent will.

I see Jack has already been highly lauded by reviewers, and I can only come to the conclusion that it just wasn’t for me. I hadn’t realised, either, that it was part of Robinson’s series Gilead, and despite repeated assurances Jack could stand on its own, I really do feel I’d have done better to have read the three predecessors before plunging into this one.

An interracial relationship in the fifties is truly a remarkable thing to write about, and I was interested to read Robinson’s take on this. A destitute white man falling in love with a successful black teacher was something to talk about back then. And yet, we focus almost entirely on Jack, on his flaws and his subsequent overcomings of his past - I’d have loved to have known Della in more detail; why is she risking everything to be with this reprobate?

Robinson’s writing is beautiful, lyrical, and dripping with profundity, perhaps overly so, as it became repetitive and dull pretty quickly for me. The book opens with a long conversation between the pair, and it’s such a slog to remain engaged as they seem to talk about everything and nothing all at once.

This is one best read, I’m sure, if you’ve read the rest of the series; I definitely wish I’d done this before rushing into Jack.