Author of prize-winning Gilead continues with some of the characters from that story. The setting is once again, Gilead, IA, and focuses on the sister, Glory, her brother, Jack and their aging father, who was a minister at their family “home”. Glory has come back to care for her father, after a failed relationship. She has nowhere else to go and he needs care. Brother Jack shows up after a 20 year absence. His father has prayed for his return all this time, but there has been no word from him until now. Jack has struggle with being different than the rest of the family his whole life, a pervasive sadness, and an alcohol problem.
Robinson is an expert at narration and the subtleties of relationship. Glory and Jack become reacquainted and build a precarious trust of each other. Jack’s presence is always tentative. His father and he try very hard at loving and or pleasing each other, but often fall short. Glory gains some sense of purpose from caring for her father and Jack. The “home” is not her “dream house” with all its old shabby furniture and curios. Her life has not fulfilled her expectations, but she seems to be adjusting to how things are and hoping the best for Jack.
“Unmet expectations” is a theme throughout the book; Jack, not meeting the expectations of his father or sister or himself; Father Boughton, not meeting his own expectations of unconditionally loving Jack; Glory, not meeting her expectations of loving Jack and her life not turning out as she had hoped. There is a theme of redemption and of healing, however subtle.
I admire how perceptive the author is in describing the interactions, the conversation between the characters, how the characters are become aware of how what they say and do affects the other. The book elicits a longing for reconciliation between Jack and his father and others, which creates a suspense of sorts that moves the reader through to the end. While the ending is not as satisfying as I had hoped, it is realistic and understandable.