I have had an odd reluctance to read Housekeeping (and Home) because Lila and Gilead have been some of the best fiction books I have read. I do not want to be disappointed. Marilyn Robinson has not written a lot of books. Authors that have written dozens of books I assume have a couple that are not all that good. Robinson has four fiction books and all of them are critically acclaimed, although not necessarily acclaimed by general readers. (All four books average four stars at Amazon and only have about 50% of the reviews as five stars.)
If you are looking for action or romance or really even much of a plot, you are probably not going to like Robinson as a novelist. Her strength is characters and description. The internal dialogue of the main character is always the focus.
In Housekeeping, Ruth is the youngest of two girls. They are growing up in their grandmother’s house. They were abandoned by their mother, who committed suicide in the nearby lake after she left them. They never knew their father. Their grandmother dies and two spinster great Aunts come to care for them before pawning them off on their odd Aunt.
The story is really about how Ruth and her sister differently handle abandonment and community as they age. It isn’t much of a plot line. Ruth has a decent childhood in many respects. But the story is being told from her perspective and especially as she ages we understand more of the benign neglect that has been a part of her life. Lucille and Ruth are each other’s main friends as children. But as they age there is a different expectation of the world. Ruth accepts her life and Lucille resents it.
Robinson is about words. Her words are lyrical and atmospheric. The story is slow and in many ways beside the point. It is an odd book to recommend. I would suggest that if you have not read Robinson before, you should probably not start here. This is a book to read after have you read and enjoyed Gilead or Lila.