Marilynne Robinson: 'Jack'

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Author, Marilynne Robinson Photo by Alec Soth and Magnum Photos.

Marilynne Robinson’s “Jack” is a book that Bookworms have been eager to read: the fourth volume of her multi-award-winning Gilead series. Here we witness characters who gain the ability to look into one another’s eyes and see their souls; it is a novel about love and freedom. These are characters in love despite obstacles from their families and the culture that surrounds them.

Excerpt from “Jack” by Marilynne Robinson.

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 very long.”

She stopped. “Now it’s a joke. It’s funny.”

He said, “There’s a problem I have. The wrong things make me laugh. I think I spoke to you about that.”

“And where did you come from, anyway? I was just walking along, and there you were behind me.”

“Yes. I’m sorry if I frightened you.”

“No, you didn’t. I knew it was you. No thief could be that sneaky. You must have been hiding behind a tree. Something ridiculous.”

“Well,” he said, “in any case, I have seen you safely to your door.” He took out his wallet and extracted a five-dollar bill.

“Now, what is this! Giving me money here on my doorstep? What are people supposed to think about that? You want to ruin my life!”

He put the money and the wallet back. “Very thoughtless of me. I just wanted you to know I wasn’t ducking out on the check. I know that’s what you must think. You see, I did have the money. That was my point.”

She shook her head. “Me scraping around in the bottom of my handbag trying to put together enough quarters and dimes to pay for those pork chops we didn’t eat. I left owing the man twenty cents.”

“Well, I’ll get the money to you. Discreetly. In a book or something. I have those books of yours.” He said, “I thought it was a very nice evening, till the last part. One bad hour out of three. One small personal loan, promptly repaid. Maybe tomorrow.”

She said, “I think you expect me to keep putting up with you!”

“Not really. People don’t, generally. I won’t blame you. I know how it is.” He said, “Your voice is soft even when you’re angry. That’s unusual.”

“I guess I wasn’t brought up to quarrel in the street.”

“I actually meant another kind of soft.” He said, “I have a few minutes. If you want to talk this over in private.”

“Did you just invite yourself in? Well, there’s nothing to talk over. You go home, or wherever it is you go. I’m done with this, whatever it is. You’re just trouble.”

He nodded. “I’ve never denied it. Seldom denied it, anyway.”

“I’ll grant you that.”

They stood there a full minute.

He said, “I’ve been looking forward to this evening. I don’t quite want it to end.”

“Mad as I am at you.”

He nodded. “That’s why I can’t quite walk away. I won’t see you again. But you’re here now—”

She said, “I just would not have believed you would embarrass me like that. I still can’t believe it.”

“Really, it seemed like the best thing, at the time.”

“I thought you were a gentleman. More or less, anyway.”

“Very often I am. In most circumstances. Dyed-in-the-wool, much of the time.”

“Well, here’s my door. You can leave now.”

“That’s true. I will. I’m just finding it a little difficult. Give me a couple of minutes. When you go inside, I’ll probably leave.”

“If some white people come along, you’ll be gone soon enough.”

He took a step back. “What? Do you think that’s what happened?”

“I saw them, Jack. Those men. I’m not blind. And I’m not stupid.”

He said, “I don’t know why you are even talking to me.”

“That’s what I’d like to know, myself.”

“They were just trying to collect some debts. They can be pretty rough about it. I can’t risk, you know, an altercation. The last one almost got me thirty days. So that would have embarrassed you, maybe more.”

“You are something!”

“Maybe,” he said, “but I’m not— I’m so glad you told me. I could have left you here thinking— I wouldn’t want you to—”

“The truth isn’t so much better, you know. Really—”

“Yes, it is. Sure it is.”

“So now I’m supposed to forgive you because what you did isn’t the absolutely worst thing you could have done.”

“Well, the case could be made, couldn’t it? I mean, I feel much better now that we’ve cleared that up. If I’d walked away ten minutes ago, think how different it would have been. And then I really never would have seen you again.”

“Who said you will now?”

He nodded. “I can’t help thinking the odds are better.”

“Maybe, if I decide to believe you. Maybe not.”
Read the full excerpt here.

Excerpted from Jack © 2020 Marilynne Robinson. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.