Book excerpt: "Jack" by Marilynne Robinson

Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson returns to the world of Gilead, Iowa, the setting of her novels "Gilead," "Home" and "Lila," for her latest, "Jack" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), about an interracial romance between the children of preachers.

Read an excerpt below.


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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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."

      
From "Jack" by Marilynne Robinson. Copyright © 2020 by Marilynne Robinson. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.

      
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