• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson offers another gentle yet affecting book in her Gilead series, this time about faith, grace, human connection, and a romance forbidden because of segregation.

He must resist the temptation to lament to her as if the sorrow were his, when the whole brunt of trouble was already coming to bear on her.

Jack focuses on the meandering, excruciating, grace-filled romance of a star-crossed couple just after World War II.

Jack Boughton is the self-loathing, drifting prodigal son of a Presbyterian minister, and Della Miles is a thoughtful, pensive, upstanding high-school teacher who herself happens to be the child of a preacher.

Jack is white, and Della is Black--but the two keep crossing paths in segregated St. Louis and deepening their connection to one other.

"...But at least we can be together here." Out in the city everything was Colored or White.

Jack deliberates endlessly: about what to do regarding Della, about his thoughts regarding faith, and about the person he is and could potentially become. When we pick up with him at the start of Robinson's book, he has frequently been very drunk, often sleeping rough, and has repeatedly been shaken down for money he may or may not owe to unsavory characters--he drinks so much that in his sober hours he isn't ever quite sure of where he stands in the world and what he's done.

It's somewhat surprising that Della is willing to enter into such a fraught--and, at the time, illegal--relationship, one that is sure to at the very least cause a significant rift in her family, might possibly cost her her beloved career, and could land her and Jack in jail. But the connection between them feels essential to each of them.

Jack's almost constant disgust with himself--and his intense struggle to simply go on--makes him seem like an unlikely candidate for practical, goal-focused Della to set her romantic sights upon despite the immense difficulties of their spending time together, But when Jack and Della repeatedly encounter each other, they recognize an unexpected and deep affinity.

"Sometimes I do wonder. If we were the only ones left after the world ended, and we made the rules, they really might work just as well. For us, at least."

Robinson explores complex issues regarding race and related societal pressures of the time; Jack's and Della's evolving thoughts about faith and meaning in life; and the heart-wrenching, tender, ill-fated romance between the two main characters who are trapped by society's oppressive views on race.

He knew the peril of relief, which was so welcome sometimes that he gave in to it impulsively and lost his grasp of the reality of the situation. He walked back toward her house half a mile, thought better of it, and went home to his rooming house. At worst, things were not terrible. He could sleep.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

If you've read the gentle, lovely Gilead, one of Robinson's other three novels in the Gilead series (these include Gilead, Lila, and Home), you may remember the ne'er-do-well Jack Boughton who arrives at the end. That timeline intersects with the events in Jack.