Like many conservatives, I have been able to enjoy the writing of Marilynne Robinson, even though she appears to be quite at home in the liberal mainline tradition. Despite the differences I have had with her outlook on many issues, her novels have been written with depth, nuance, and sensitivity. This is apparently because she writes about the Fifties, back when all those characteristics were still legal.
In Gilead and Home, when Ames and Boughton have their periodic political “fusses,” the first thing you see in and through the portrait is their humanity. You see how the issues are complicated, and how good people get themselves tangled up in complicated things. You can see this in her treatment of the civil rights unrest in Montgomery, and you see it in her treatment of the Civil War — in the flashbacks in Gilead about Ames’ father and grandfather, and in the tensions between radicalism and pacifism. In her novels, some of the characters have demons, but none of them are demons. There are absolutely no cartoons.
The thing that is striking about all this is that it has become plain to me that Robinson would be clearly incapable of writing a first rate novel, of the same kind as these, set in the present time. In a recent interview with Religion News Service (more here and here), she spoke in some very skewed and unflattering ways about people she clearly doesn’t understand at all. She has a prophetic eye, pressed to the keyhole of a very small room. She is a blinkered prophetess.
In that interview, she discuss