Best Novel?

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When Marilynne Robinson wrote Gilead, I heard about that novel at every turn—first from other writers at FIF, then from editors and agents in writers’ conferences. And why wouldn’t I hear about it? After all, the book won the Pulitzer. Still, the readers who left reviews at Amazon, all 311 of them, only gave an average of four stars for the book.

Here’s one portion of a negative review:

So bad it’s offensive. Why is this “fiction”? It’s pages and pages of the main character (and I guess by extrension, the author) spouting his opinion on God and religion

Contrast that to this one:

What an amazing book! Quiet, thoughtful, slow-moving….but so thought provoking. Events unfold delicately, memories surface gently — there’s a wistfulness to this book

But here’s why I bring this up. While Gilead won the most prestigious literary award and readers wrangled over its subject matter and its merit as fiction, people were talking about it.

Lo and behold, I learned today that Christianity Today named Robinson’s HOME: A Novel (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) as the fiction book of 2009.

I did a little checking and discovered that HOME: A Novel came out last September, so it isn’t like it’s been around for a year already, but still, why am I not hearing about this book?

Is it really well written? Then why aren’t writing communities discussing it? What does it do well? What can it teach us?

One thing I found particularly interesting. In Publisher’s Weekly‘s starred review, they said

Robinson’s beautiful new novel, a companion piece to her Pulitzer Prize–winning Gilead, is an elegant variation on the parable of the prodigal son’s return.

Could it be that this book offers a stronger statement of the Christian message that some found wanting in Gilead, given that so many Christians lauded the book as an example of Christian fiction outside the parameters of ECPA fiction?

Once again, I feel the prod to read Robinson. But I have to admit, when some readers comment on its slow-moving pace, or give the book one star and say in capital letters that it was boring … well, I ask myself why.

Why do well-written books have to be slow and boring? Meandering, some said, without a plot at all.

Of course, not all those 311 reviewers found those points objectionable. It’s just that, I would. I don’t like slow to the point of boring. I want a plot because I want a story. So Gilead stays on the bottom of my to-be-read pile, and I probably won’t be putting Home into the mix any time soon.

Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 2:57 pm  Comments (12)  
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