I bought this book for a graduate class Fall of 2007 but I didn't have to read it so it lingered on my shelf for quite some time. I'm not entirely sure why but I always told myself when I had the time I was going to read this novel. Perhaps it was because of the haunting picture on the cover, with train tracks fading into the fog, but I had a feeling it was going to be different than other novels I have read.
Well, I was definitely right about that.
Told through the viewpoint of Ruth or "Ruthie", this novel discusses the importance of family, transience, loss, and the importance of communication. Ruth and her younger sister Lucille lose their mother Helen (she drives off a cliff) and live with their grandmother, then their two great-aunts, then finally with Sylvie their eccentric and transient aunt. The entire time they live in their grandmother's home by a glacial lake. Their grandfather died in a train wreak and drowned in that same lake before they were born.
The entire novel centers around trains. Sylvie never knows what time it is unless she hears a train go by, there are hobos hanging around the trains, and they talk about the people at the bottom of the lake that died in the train wreak. The town of Fingerbone lives and dies around the world of trains. Also, what I did like about Robinson's writing style is that her sentences are long and full of syllables, much like the cho-cho-choo of a locomotive keeping pace.
The title for the novel Housekeeping comes about when Sylvia realizes that she may lose custody of Ruth (since Lucille willingly decided to leave and live somewhere else) and attempts to clean herself and her life up. The town feared that her transient lifestyle began to affect Ruth (and they were correct). So she began to do all methods of housekeeping in an attempt to clean up and look presentable to society, in the process she tries to change her very nature.
I don't think I would recommend this novel to a friend just because I didn't personally feel any sort of connection with it. Robinson's connections with the lake, family, people, nature, and darkness are all very clever and written in a unique style, but I personally did not enjoy it. One critic remarked that Robinson wrote about the most ordinary things in her own perspective, and I do agree, but at times she drones on and on and on which makes it is very difficult to connect to the characters; at times it feels she is just trying to make her own point in Ruth's voice.