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Summary and book reviews of Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Jack by Marilynne Robinson X
Jack by Marilynne Robinson
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2021, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Debbie Morrison
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About this Book

Book Summary

Marilynne Robinson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, returns to the world of Gilead with Jack, the latest novel in one of the great works of contemporary American fiction.

Marilynne Robinson's mythical world of Gilead, Iowa―the setting of her novels Gilead, Home, and Lila, and now Jack―and its beloved characters have illuminated and interrogated the complexities of American history, the power of our emotions, and the wonders of a sacred world. Jack is Robinson's fourth novel in this now-classic series. In it, Robinson tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead's Presbyterian minister, and his romance with Della Miles, a high school teacher who is also the child of a preacher. Their deeply felt, tormented, star-crossed interracial romance resonates with all the paradoxes of American life, then and now.

Robinson's Gilead novels, which have won one Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Critics Circle Awards, are a vital contribution to contemporary American literature and a revelation of our national character and humanity.

Excerpt
Jack

He was walking along almost beside her, two steps behind. She did not look back. She said, "I'm not talking to you."

"I completely understand."

"If you did completely understand, you wouldn't be following me."

He said, "When a fellow takes a girl out to dinner, he has to see her home."

"No, he doesn't have to. Not if she tells him to go away and leave her alone."

"I can't help the way I was brought up," he said. But he crossed the street and walked along beside her, across the street. When they were a block from where she lived, he came across the street again. He said, "I do want to apologize."

"I don't want to hear it. And don't bother trying to explain."

"Thank you. I mean I'd rather not try to explain. If that's all right."

"Nothing is all right. All right has no place in this conversation." Still, her voice was soft.

"I understand, of course. But I can't quite resign myself."

She said, "I have never been so embarrassed. Never in my life."

He said, "Well, you haven't known me ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Raised by clergymen and devoted to literature, Jack and Della appear to have much in common. Are those commonalities the basis for their attraction to each other, or does the true spark come from their differences? What accounts for the fact that Della is quite accomplished in her professional life but doesn't expect the same in her partner? Would their relationship have flourished if it had not been forbidden?
  2. If you have read the other novels in the series (particularly Home), compare the scenes in Jack to the images you had previously pictured for the turning points in the Boughtons' family history. What is the effect of reading a prequel, knowing what the characters' outcomes will be while watching them speculate about their ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Jack traverses the intervening years between the titular character's departure and return to Gilead, painting a portrait of an infinitely flawed and complicated man grappling with what it means to truly love. Despite the deep connections to the other books in the Gilead series, readers don't need to have read any of them to appreciate Jack. They can lose themselves in Robinson's beautiful language and boundless empathy for her characters just as easily. However, if readers are returning to the world of Gilead, they will find that Jack, and his actions, remain the axis upon which so much of the emotional weight of this world spins...continued

Full Review (877 words).

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(Reviewed by Debbie Morrison).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Robinson remains so focused on Jack’s ruminations that whatever Della may be thinking by loving him back is exalted as an ontological fact beyond scrutiny. Sweet as their affection for each other is, the story’s asymmetrical insight into their motives makes Della feel flat...But Jack is wholly Jack’s story. And Robinson cradles his love for Della with the tenderness of a gracious creator.

O, the Oprah Magazine
With the sublime Jack, [Marilynne Robinson] resumes and deepens her quest, extending it to the contemplation of race...Robinson masterfully allows her protagonists to do the heavy lifting of the storytelling and employs deceptively simple dialogue as her primary tool. But make no mistake—there is richness and depth at every turn.

Vulture
Languidly page through a new Marilynne Robinson novel and forget that any world exists outside her rippling cornfields and creaky country kitchens, where slow-building crises of faith and reason are talked through by well-meaning, if troubled, people...Prepare to be sucked in by our country’s most thoughtful novelist.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An elegantly written proof of the thesis that love conquers all—but not without considerable pain.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Robinson's masterly prose and musings on faith are on display as usual, and the dialogue is keen and indelible...This is a beautiful, superbly crafted meditation on the redemption and transcendence that love affords.

Booklist (starred review)
Robinson's latest glorious work of metaphysical and moral inquiry, nuanced feelings, intricate imagination, and exquisite sensuousness...Myriad manifestations of pain are evoked, but here, too, are beauty, mystery, and joy as Robinson holds us rapt with the exactitude of her perceptions and the exhilaration of her hymnal cadence, and so gracefully elucidates the complex sorrows and wonders of life and spirit.

Library Journal (starred review)
Robinson fans will be hungry for the next chapter in the Gilead saga, and the beauty and humanity of Robinson's prose will win over new fans. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Segregation of St. Louis

Mill Creek Valley parade scene pre-demolitionIn Marilynne Robinson's novel Jack, the title character, a white man, meets and falls in love with a Black woman named Della. However, America's racism, segregation and anti-miscegenation laws in the 1950s present a nearly insurmountable obstacle for the couple. One of their specific concerns is how and where they will live together as man and wife. That they live in the deeply segregated city of St. Louis is a significant choice of setting, as it underscores issues of race and segregation in the broader U.S.

For much of the early 20th century, St. Louis boasted one of the country's largest Black communities. During the first wave of the Great Migration, generally dated from the late 19th century through 1930, many African Americans ...

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Readalikes

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More books by Marilynne Robinson

If you liked Jack, try these:

  • The Revisioners jacket

    The Revisioners

    by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

    Published 2020

    About this book

    More by this author

    Following her National Book Award–nominated debut novel, A Kind of Freedom, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton returns with this equally elegant and historically inspired story of survivors and healers, of black women and their black sons, set in the American South.

  • Home jacket

    Home

    by Marilynne Robinson

    Published 2009

    About this book

    More by this author

    Home parallels the story told in Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead. It is a moving and healing book about families, family secrets, and the passing of the generations, about love and death and faith.

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