I’m working on a longer piece about Marilynne Robinson and faith and my love of Housekeeping that I hope will be out soon! In the meantime, some thoughts on Robinson’s essay collection due out February 20:
Robinson’s essays are less concerned with religious community or any particular theology (though they are densely theological) and more with the ways in which ignoring the sacred, reducing what she calls Being to misapplied maxims of economics or evolution denies us of an, or she would say the, essential humanity. She refers to reductive interpretations of Freudian psychology, Eugenics, and moral capitalism as “horrible children of half-baked science.” One of the central ideas running throughout Robinson’s essays is that we’ve foolishly allowed a belief in markets to replace morality. Referring to the popular references to “cost-benefit analysis,” in the collection’s first essay, she writes that “[w]e accept the legitimacy of economic theory that overrides our declared values,” and that by this measure the Left and the Right are equally to blame in our collective move away from a moral society. “The left does not understand the thinking of the right because it is standing too close to have a clear view of it,” she writes in the preface.
I started reading Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties while sleeping on an air mattress in my sick daughter’s room, which was not the best idea. I knew the stories in the collection were supernatural, but did not anticipate how tense and frightened they’d make me feel. That, combined with worry for my kids in this year of horrible flus, sleep deprivation, and then getting sick myself, intensified the feeling of vague unease and fear. All that is to say: these stories are so good.
They’re ghost stories, though some of them are not obviously supernatural at first. My favorite stories were “The Husband Stitch,” which I’d read a bit about before starting the novel; “Especially Heinous,” which is a sort of meta-fictive take on SVU-type shows that is both frightening in its own way and a provocative commentary on the industry of providing entertainment based on violence against women and children; and “Inventory,” which reminded me of The Road.
It’s hard to admit that I was afraid to read Between the World and Me. When Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay was published in 2015 I’d heard Coates on Where We Live that spring and by the time a friend in my bookclub suggested we read Between the World and Me that fall, I stiffened at the possibility of feeling responsible for the racism, violence, and oppression I’d been so horrified to watch unfolding in the news all summer. One of the things that made me feel nervous and scared was Coates’s claim that trying to become “a little bit more enlightened” was not enough. If that wasn’t enough then what could I do?
On a personal level, the biggest change since 2015 is that I have a son. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a mother to a son, what it means to raise a young man in America in 2018, and part of that means confronting questions about race. (To be clear, this is part of being a citizen of the United States in 2018, not just a mother or a mother of a son.)
Anyway, I listened to Coates read the book. The writing is beautiful, the argument at times uncomfortable (at least for well-intentioned white women like me), That’s the a point of reading, though. I’m trying to read more things that make me uncomfortable because that’s something it’s easy to stop doing once you’re reading in the wild and have the freedom to engage selectively.