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Nikolai Lobanov
Nikolai Lobanov

Housekeeping: A Novel [BETTER]

In 2003, Guardian Unlimited named Housekeeping one of the 100 greatest novels of all time,[1] describing the book as "Haunting, poetic story, drowned in water and light, about three generations of women". Time magazine also included the novel in its Time 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[2]

Housekeeping: A Novel


The novel treats the subject of housekeeping, not only in the domestic sense of cleaning, but in the larger sense of keeping a spiritual home for one's self and family in the face of loss, for the girls experience a series of abandonments as they come of age.

The novel is narrated by Ruth, from the perspective of the transparent eyeball. This narration style was used by the transcendentalist authors that influenced Robinson, including Ralph Waldo Emerson.[3]

Although no dates are specified, the novel likely takes place in the 1950s: Ruthie reads the novel Not as a Stranger, a bestseller from 1954; and Sylvie's husband "fought in the Pacific". Also of note, like Ruthie and Lucille, Robinson (born in 1943) was an adolescent in the late 1950s.

Presumably, the three Foster sisters were born in the late 1910s (as Sylvie is in her mid-thirties when the main plot begins) and the train accident occurred around 1930 (as the three sisters were in their early teens at that time). Of note, the train accident in the novel bears many similarities to the Custer Creek train wreck of 1938, in which a passenger train derailed from a bridge into a creek in Montana (the state that borders Idaho), killing 47 people. It remains Montana's worst-ever rail disaster.

After Housekeeping debuted in 1980, Robinson would not publish another novel for twenty years. What happened in those years? one might be tempted to ask. Life. The dailiness of work and raising children and watching them grow up and come of age. A move abroad to London, where she would complete research that would become her first book of non-fiction, Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989), an investigation into the environmental impact of the Sellafield processing plant on the coast of the Irish Sea, and then a collection of writings, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998).

Even avid readers will be hard pressed to find another novel quite like Marilynne Robinson's luminous Housekeeping. Set in the remote, imaginary town of Fingerbone, Idaho, it presents the precarious and eccentric lives of three generations of Foster family women. Housekeeping chronicles the deaths, abandonments, and insecurities that beset the Fosters so vividly that it is often heartbreaking, but the novel also radiates a mysterious joy and tender humor commensurate with Ruth's childlike capacity for the sheer wonder of being alive.

Edmund FosterAlthough this patriarch is already dead when the novel begins, his decision to settle in the lonesome northwest town of Fingerbone haunts the lives of all the women who survive him. The victim of an eerie nighttime train derailment, his unexpected death forces his wife to raise their three daughters alone.

Helen Foster StoneYears before the novel's action, Helen flees Fingerbone with Reginald Stone, and Sylvia never accepts her daughter's Nevada wedding as legitimate. After almost eight years away, Helen suddenly returns from Seattle and leaves her daughters, Ruthie and Lucille, on Sylvia's porch before driving herself off a cliff and into the same lake that claimed her father's life.

LucilleRuthie's red-haired younger sister is embarrassed by Sylvie's eccentric habits and longs to go to Boston just "because it isn't Fingerbone." By the novel's end, she is perhaps the loneliest character of all.

Once she completed her dissertation on Shakespeare, she was ready to begin work on Housekeeping, her first novel. She wrote much of it while teaching in France and, after that, in Massachusetts. She gave a draft of the novel to her friend and fellow writer John Clayton, who passed it on to an agent without her knowledge. "If he hadn't done that," said Robinson, "I'm not at all sure that I would ever have submitted it for publication." It was published in 1980 to widespread critical acclaim, winning the PEN/Hemingway Award for best first novel.

Since Housekeeping, Robinson has written many essays and book reviews in journals such as Harper's, the Paris Review, and the New York Times Book Review. Robinson's second novel, Gilead, was published in 2004. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

MR: Yes. Remember, I didn't write the novel with the expectation it would be published. I studied English literature in graduate school, so Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson were on my mind. I've often thought that Henry David Thoreau's Walden could be called Housekeeping.

"Newly reissued as a Picador Modern Classic, Marilynne Robinson's brilliant, PEN/Hemingway Award-winning first novel Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, the eccentric and remote sister of their dead mother. The family house is in the small town of Fingerbone on a glacial lake in the Far West, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." Ruth and Lucille's struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience."--

Marilynne Robinson has written a first novel that one reads as slowly as poetry - and for the same reason: The language is so precise, so distilled, so beautiful that one doesn't want to miss any pleasure it might yield up to patience. Miss Robinson's muse is clearly John Keats, and her theme, like his, the inextricability of pleasure and loss. What sustains the lyricism of ''Housekeeping'' is the immovable melancholy of its narrator, a quiet dreamy girl named Ruth who becomes so used to loss so young that she cannot envision clinging to anything more permanent than a moment, a memory or a dream. Ruth, who knows her father only from a photograph, lives with her more earthbound sister Lucille and a succession of guardians on the shore of a mountain lake that has claimed the lives of their mother and grandfather. The grandfather died in a train accident that brought a kind of macabre celebrity to the town of Fingerbone, and particularly to those widowed and orphaned by it. Although there were no witnesses to the accident - ''the disaster took place midway through a moonless night'' - the town remains haunted by the imagined memory of the train, ''black and sleek and elegant,'' as it slid off the bridge and ''into the water like a weasel sliding off a rock.'' Years later Ruth's mother leaves her two girls on their grandmother's porch (''with a box of graham crackers to prevent conflict and restlessness''), then drives her car across a meadow and over a cliff into the lake that becomes a kind of family grave.

As the townspeople and Sylvie move toward a melodramatic confrontation over Ruth, the novel's tight weave begins to unravel. Like Sylvie, Ruth never had more than a tenuous grasp of the distinctions among dream, memory and present reality. But as their world becomes more enclosed and besieged, these disContinued on Page 16 tinctions break down utterly. The controlled lyricism of Ruth's language, which had been anchored in sensuous detail, becomes unmoored: ''I cannot taste a cup of water but I recall that the eye of the lake is my grandfather's, and that the lake's heavy, blind, encumbering waters composed my mother's limbs and weighed her garments and stopped her breath. There is remembrance, and communion, altogether human and unhallowed.'' Since Ruth is our narrator, when her imagination becomes fevered and hallucinatory, so does the novel, and it never quite regains its equilibrium.

This lapse is perhaps inevitable. None of the romantic poets ever fully managed to solve the problem of how to sustain lyric intensity over the course of a long narrative poem. (Even Keats left ''The Fall of Hyperion'' unfinished.) And there is only so much one can ask of a first novel, even one so generous in its accomplishments as the one Marilynne Robinson has given us.

Housekeeping genes are widely used as internal controls in a variety of study types, including real time RT-PCR, microarrays, Northern analysis and RNase protection assays. However, even commonly used housekeeping genes may vary in stability depending on the cell type or disease being studied. Thus, it is necessary to identify additional housekeeping-type genes that show sample-independent stability. Here, we used statistical analysis to examine a large human microarray database, seeking genes that were stably expressed in various tissues, disease states and cell lines. We further selected genes that were expressed at different levels, because reference and target genes should be present in similar copy numbers to achieve reliable quantitative results. Real time RT-PCR amplification of three newly identified reference genes, CGI-119, CTBP1 and GOLGAl, alongside three well-known housekeeping genes, B2M, GAPD, and TUBB, confirmed that the newly identified genes were more stably expressed in individual samples with similar ranges. These results collectively suggest that statistical analysis of microarray data can be used to identify new candidate housekeeping genes showing consistent expression across tissues and diseases. Our analysis identified three novel candidate housekeeping genes (CGI-119, GOLGA1, and CTBP1) that could prove useful for normalization across a variety of RNA-based techniques. 041b061a72


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