Barrett Hathcock at The Quarterly Conversation:
Is there a more chastening figure in contemporary American letters than Marilynne Robinson? Is there anyone else who seems, by her small but distinguished oeuvre, to call into question our literary predilections—for Franzonian cultural diagnostics, for confessional self-help, for vast, historical, double-hanky weepers? Or, more generally, is there a writer whose very presence—her unironic devotion to Christianity, her almost creepy level of calm, her spiritual maturity, her belief—undermines our own hectic cultural preoccupations—with Twitter icons, racist presidential candidates, our daily NASDAQ of microaggressions? Perhaps the only person who offers the same level of rebuke to contemporary life is Cormac McCarthy, a kind of grumpy, nihilistic older brother. Together they stand like Easter Island statues, implacable in the bleak gulf stream of our culture.
Which isn’t to say Robinson isn’t any fun. After publishing the almost universally heraldedHousekeeping in 1980 and then becoming something of a modern day Harper Lee, she returned to fiction, like a woken giant, with Gilead in 2004. Since then she has published two more novels in her Gilead trilogy, and they each contain her unassuming, uncondescending sense of magnanimous patience. Reading these novels is not unlike receiving a type of spiritual hug, offered even to the unbelieving.
Her newest book, the collection of essays The Givenness of Things, continues her spiritual exploration even more overtly.