I had come across Housekeeping on almost every “100 books you must read before you die” list, but, like a teenager, I am immediately put off when a book is included on a list like that. (I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that way.) So it wasn’t until a very good friend of mine mentioned it was one of her favorite novels that I decided to pick it up.
Ruth and Lucille are young sisters living in the small lakeside town of Fingerbone. Having been abandoned there by their mother, who immediately afterwards drives into the nearby lake, the sisters’ grandmother becomes their guardian. However, after she too passes away, their aunt Sylvie, whom they’ve never met and has been living a transient lifestyle, moves in to take care of them. Living with Sylvie is not an easy transition, as she is used to hopping trains, making do with small things, and generally not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks of her; in other words, she is not a traditional housekeeper, unlike the girls’ grandmother. While initially both sisters enjoy the freedom of shrugging off others’ expectations, Lucille soon begins to feel frustrated by their new home life, causing friction between the two siblings, who were once so close.
I loved this intimate and simple story, and Robinson does a great job of sketching the characters of Ruth, Lucille, Sylvie, and the town (which seems to have a hivemind). Where it fell flat for me were the philosophical, poetic tangents peppered throughout the novel, which took me out of the story every time.