Jack, Marilynne Robinson

1. First lines. 2. Published 2020 Hachette Australia; Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Macmillan; Thorndike Press; Virago 3. Engaged-love-interracial [Public Domain] via Pixabay

This is the story of Jack, a character from the Gilead series by Marilynne Robinson. He is living in St Louis, a self-confessed “bum” who has just been released from jail. He falls in love with African-American teacher Della, a love that is forbidden by law in 1950s Missouri. Jack is estranged from his father, a preacher in Iowa, and he is anguished by thoughts of how much harm can come to Della if the relationship continues, particularly when her family ostracize him.


“…feeling that old thrill of dread and compulsion, he knew circumstances had once again put him too close to a fragile thing. He said, “Look at the life we live, Della. I have to sneak over here in the dark just to steal a few words with you. Is that language, or is it noise?”

“A shabby fellow with a furtive air can be as gallant as the next man, depending on circumstances.”

My thoughts:

Highly recommended. Another exceptional character study to follow the first three in the Gilead series. This one’s all about Jack, son of an Iowan small-town preacher, living in segregated St Louis, and anguished by his love for a “coloured lady” Della. The writing perfectly portrays the attitudes of the times, when mixed marriages were against the law.

Book reviews:
  • TLS: “This is not a book that has been designed to please. Its pace is deliberately slow, and character is sometimes overwhelmed by a weight of significance that verges on the allegorical…. Those who are willing to grant the imaginative patience that this novel requires, however, will find themselves rewarded.”
  • The National Book Review: “… at times Jack meanders. For instance, the first scene is a tight six pages on the aftermath of Jack and Della’s disastrous first date The second scene is 70 pages of them talking in a graveyard. The universe of this novel could use a bit more fine-tuning. “
  • Kirkus: “Robinson’s storytelling relies heavily on dialogue, moreso than her other work, and involves only a few scene changes, as if first sketched out as a play. The story flows swiftly—and without a hint of inevitability—as Robinson explores a favorite theme, “guilt and grace met together.” An elegantly written proof of the thesis that love conquers all—but not without considerable pain.”
Other editions:
Available as Hardback, Paperback, Large Print, Digital Audio, Audio CD and ebook.

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