We know Marilynne Robinson for Gilead and Home, two enchanting novels that read as if they were told during long nights in front of a fire. But 24 years earlier, her first novel, Housekeeping, was published, to great acclaim. It is slow and quiet but in a good way, and much happens in the course of the story: a train wreck and suicide and reclusive hoarding. There is a house that is not particularly well-kept and a down-in-the-mouth town called Fingerbone bisected by train tracks, and a landscape filled with a lake and rimmed with mountains.

We walked north, with the lake on our right hand. If we looked at it, the water seemed spread over half the world. The mountains, grayed and flattened by the distance, looked like remnants of a broken dam, or like the broken lip of an iron pot, just at a simmer, endlessly distilling water into light.

The lake at our feet was plain, clear water, bottomed with smooth stones or simple mud. It was quick with small life, like any pond, as modest in its transformations of the ordinary as any puddle. Only the calm persistence with which the water touched, and touched, and touched, sifting all the little stones, jet, and white, and hazel, forced us to remember that the lake was vast, and in league with the moon (for no sublunar account could be made of its shimmering, cold life).

I read the story in one night by the fire. But I will go back now and savor the sentences.


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