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Hello friends, 

Welcome to week one of our Granola book club! So excited to be reading Jack with you all—and eager to hear your thoughts as we go along. 

Below, I'm sharing a couple interesting reviews of the book, along with some questions for you to consider (if you so desire) as you read through the first ~80 pages. If something stands out to you as you read, feel free to email and share your thoughts. I would love to include your considerations in next week's email.

Remember that we have a webinar at the end of the month, during which we will consider Jack together, and discuss Marilynne Robinson's Gilead series as a whole. If there are questions you would like to ask the webinar panelists, you can send them along in coming days, or type them into the Q&A once the webinar begins. 

— Gracy 
essays & questions

In Gilead, John Ames suggests that “in every important way we are such secrets from each other…there is a separate language in each of us.” We have “resemblances ... but all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.”

Hermione Lee argues in her review of Jack that this passage is at the heart of each of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead novels. Each seeks to identify “'the incomprehensible complexity—spiritual, intellectual, and emotional—of anyone we encounter.'”

But Jack presents a new, far more complex challenge for Robinson, Lee says—for in Jack, we are called to "identify with someone who thinks they have no meaning, no value or significance."
  • What do you think of Jack as narrator? What is revealed in these early pages about his perception of reality, his "incomprehensible complexity?"
  • What do you make of the names Jack tends to give himself? (Lee lists several of them for us: "He is the Prince of Darkness; he is Lazarus; he is Satan; he is the Prodigal Son.") 
  • What do we learn about Della—her character, background, and experience of the world—in these early pages?

In an interview with The Paris Review in 2008, when asked why Home was told from Glory's point of view (and not Jack's), Marilynne Robinson replied, “I would lose Jack if I tried to get too close to him as a narrator. He's alienated in a complicated way. Other people don’t find him comprehensible and he doesn’t find them comprehensible.”

  • Why do you think Robinson changed her mind?
  • Why do you think this novel is written as a prequel, rather than proceeding along the same timeline as Robinson's other three books?

Robinson has said that she wrote this fourth Gilead novel because Jack’s voice "was in my head." But "Robinson was prescient to predict that enlisting Jack as a primary protagonist would pose problems, and it is telling that she found him irresistible anyway,"  Jordan Kisner writes in her review of Jack for The Atlantic. "... Over the course of these novels, Jack has stood out among her characters—troublesome, seductive, full of pathos—because he most represents a central theological question raised by the Calvinist doctrine of predestination: Can a person be damned to perdition? Or, to use non-Calvinist language: Can a person be irretrievably and miserably wrong, broken, no-good, unsalvageable?"

  • The bulk of these first 80 pages take place in a graveyard. In the midst of this graveyard scene, Della suggests to Jack that he's "living like someone who has died already." What does this scene convey to us about Jack and Della's differing understandings of "fate," sin, and grace? What aspects of their conversation stand out to you? 
  • Home (and homelessness) are deeply significant in Robinson's works—from her first novel, Housekeeping, to this one. How do Jack and Della both grapple with home, placelessness, and belonging? 
I grew up in rural Idaho, and now live in Northern Virginia. I have written for The American Conservative, The Week, New York Times, Washington Post, National Review, Weekly Standard, Christianity Today, and others. To quote C.S. Lewis, "You'll never find a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me."
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Copyright © 2020 Gracy Olmstead, All rights reserved.

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