Picks and Pans Review: Housekeeping

updated 04/20/1981 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/20/1981 01:00AM

by Marilynne Robinson

The author, a Northampton, Mass. housewife and part-time English teacher at Westfield State College, has crafted a stunningly moving story about a devastated family in this first novel. The narrator is a dreamy, gangly girl who has lost so much so young—her mother, father and grandmother—that she says, "The ordinary demanded unblinking attention. Any tedious hour might be the last of its kind." Robinson's most dazzling creation, though, is the girl's Aunt Sylvie, a withdrawn, 35-year-old misfit who flirts with suicide, then finds her salvation in a tenuous family life with the teenager. Robinson infuses the tale with offbeat humor, but the enduring impact of this book lies in its pervasive understanding of tragedy. The girl, trying to comprehend her mother's suicide, muses: "We would have known nothing of the nature and reach of her sorrow if she had come back. But she left us and broke the family and the sorrow was released." (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $10.95)

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