Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson


Housekeeping book cover

Author: Robinson, Marilynne

Title: Housekeeping

Genre: Literary Fiction, Women’s Lives and Relationships

Publication Date: 1980

Number of Pages: 219

Geographical Setting: Fingerbone Lake, Idaho

Time Period: Roughly the middle of 1900s

Series: No

Plot Summary:

Abandoned by their mother who has driven off a bridge to her death, Ruth and her sister Lucille are taken in by their maternal grandmother. After their grandmother’s demise, the girls are temporarily cared for by two spinster great aunts. The great aunts gratefully pass the responsibility of raising the sisters to Aunt Sylvie, one of their mother’s sisters. Aunt Sylvie is a drifter and her “housekeeping” is questionable, both in the eyes of Lucille and the townspeople. As Lucille asserts her independence and makes personal choices, Ruthie becomes attached to Sylvie and finds comfort in her odd ways.

Subject Headings: Loss (Psychology), Family relationships, Survivors of suicide victims, Eccentric aunts, Teenage girls, Sisters, Eccentrics and eccentricities, Mothers – Death, Suicide, Small town life, Grandmothers, Aunts, Loneliness in women, The West (United States), Literary fiction, Psychological fiction, Domestic fiction, First person narratives

Appeal: Densely written, measured, deliberate, detailed, eccentric, insightful, reflective, sympathetic, character-centered, domestic, family-centered, interior, thought-provoking, small-town, first-person, sympathetic, issue-oriented, contemplative, reflective, elegiac, literary, poetic, introspective, thoughtful, frank, detailed setting.

Three Terms that best describe this book: Family-Centered, Detailed, Thought provoking

Similar Authors and Works:

Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Bitterbrush Country: Living on the Edge of the Land by Diane Josephy Peavey. This is a collection of autobiographical essays about her adult life on Flat Top Sheep Ranch as the wife of Idaho Senator John Peavy. Each essay renders a narrative about the spirit of Western rural culture. This compilation is similar to Housekeeping in that it is reflective, insightful, poetic, written in the first-person, and about life in Idaho.

The Boy on the Green Bicycle: a Memoir by Margaret Diehl. At the tender age of ten, the author lost both her brother (in a bicycle accident) and her father (to suicide). Thirty years later, Diehl looks back on this difficult time as part of her grieving process. This book is similar to Housekeeping in that it is family-centered, deals with death and suicide, is about families and relationships, and is thought-provoking.

Written on Water: Essays on Idaho Rivers edited by Mary Clearman Blew. This book is a compilation of essays about “any river” in Idaho. All written by Idaho writers, some of the essays are personal and others are matter-of-fact reports. This book is similar to Housekeeping in that all the writings are set on rivers in Idaho.

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Runaway: Stories by Alice Munro. This collection of short stories focuses on the distinction between societal expectations and the contrasting yearnings and desires of women. This compilation portrays women of all ages dealing with and confronting an array of life’s challenges. This collection is similar to Housekeeping in that it is introspective, insightful, thought-provoking, issue-oriented, and about women’s lives and relationships and small town life.

Amy and Isabelle, by Beth Strout. This story follows a mother/daughter relationship, while Housekeeping is the story of an aunt/niece relationship. This story is similar to Housekeeping in that it is character- and family-centered, issue-oriented, thought-provoking, and contains a family secret.

The Homesman, by Glendon Swarthout. Set in the American West, Mary Bee Cuddy is a self-sufficient unmarried woman. Cuddy’s neighbor, Theoline, becomes mentally unstable and is in immediate need of help. Cuddy volunteers to act as “homesman” for Theoline and three other mentally ill women by accompanying them to Iowa where help is waiting. This story is similar to Housekeeping in that it has sympathetic characters, is character-centered, thought-provoking and issue-oriented, takes place in the West, and mentally ill and suicidal women play prominent roles.

Name: Laona Fleischer


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