Books

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Mary Ann Gwinn
The Seattle Times (MCT)

Note to parents, present and future: Some regrets are better kept to yourself.


Home

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374299101
Author: Marilynne Robinson
Price: $25.00
Length: 325
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2008-09
Amazon

Pacific Northwest readers were early adopters of the work of author Marilynne Robinson - Robinson spent time at the University of Washington, and her breakout novel, 1980's Housekeeping, was set in a small Idaho town. When Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for her deeply spiritual novel, 2004's Gilead, it was a pleasure and a vindication for readers who had championed Housekeeping as one of the best novels of the 20th century.

Now Robinson has written Home, which tells the story of Gilead in a different voice. First, a word about Gilead: It was written as the testament of John Ames, a small-town Iowa preacher, in the form of a letter to his six-year-old son, to be read after Ames was gone and his son grown.

Ames wrote of his love of and estrangement from family members, of a lifetime of pondering the nature of God and of the return to Gilead of a man who had been a trial and a tribulation to him - Jack Boughton. It was, and is, an incandescent, moving work.

Home revisits this time and place, but from the perspective of Jack Boughton and his sister Glory, a 38-year-old woman in the wake of a failed romance, who has come home to take care of her dying father, the Rev. Boughton, Ames' best friend. Jack has returned after two decades of silence and separation from his family.

It's 1956. Gilead has an eerily timeless feel. Kids are innocent, the hope of a seemingly unclouded future. The furniture in the Boughtons' stuffed Victorian parlor sits in judgment of the modern age; it's so quiet one almost longs for a phone to ring.

For the dying Rev. Boughton, marooned in his lifelong home, the present continuously bleeds into the past. When Jack presents his father with a bunch of mushrooms, the old man is swept into a reverie of times gone by:

"He drew a deep breath and laughed ... 'Morels. Dan and Teddy used to bring me these. And blackberries, and walnuts. And they'd bring in walleye and catfish. And pheasants. They were always off in the fields, down by the river. With the girls it was always flowers. So long ago.'"

So long ago, and so close behind. The Rev. Boughton's biggest failure is Jack, and one of Jack's biggest regrets is the pain he has caused his father. When Jack returns, father and son commence an excruciating attempt to reconcile -- on the doorstep of death.

Few other characters intrude, creating a sense of compression and emotional claustrophobia heightened by the fact that this is a preacher's family, and the issue of What Will Everyone Think is never far from the front porch.

One of Home's pleasures is watching Glory and Jack rediscover each other after years of separation and misunderstanding. Each possesses a wry, almost mordant sense of humor; for such a serious writer, Robinson can be very funny. Through hardship and humor, these two siblings find in one another an empathy unique to those in the same gene pool, shouldering a similar burden of parental expectations.

But Home has more serious aims, and they're centered on the Rev. Boughton. In decline, he still speaks with two voices: that of a loving father, and the voice of a God taking the measure of lives fallen short of perfection. He says some terrible things to Jack, and Jack comes close to exacting a terrible retribution. Toward the end, the Reverend and Glory have this interchange, with Jack as witness:

"Glory said, 'It's been hard for him to come here. You should be kinder to him.'

"A moment passed, and her father stirred from his reverie. 'Kinder to him! I thanked God for him every day of his life, no matter how much grief, how much sorrow -- and at the end of it all there is only more grief, more sorrow, and his life will go on that way, no help for it now. You see something beautiful in a child, and you almost live for it, you feel as though you would die for it, but it isn't yours to keep or protect. And if the child becomes a man who has no respect for himself, it's just destroyed till you can hardly remember what it was --"

Note to parents, present and future: Some regrets are better kept to yourself.

Home will not be a novel for everyone. If you were raised, as I was, in an old-line Protestant environment where judgment is the knife-edge of the kindly gesture, and reconciliation means "bend to the Lord's will", this book will resonate with you for weeks after you've finished it.

If you weren't, you may well wonder: Why do these people keep tormenting themselves, measuring every thought, word and deed against 500 years of Protestant/Calvinist doctrine?

Robinson is a practicing Congregationalist mightily concerned with issues of spirituality, philosophy and religion. My take on Home is that it is her meditation on the difficulty of bringing together two key tenets of Christianity -- the imperative to judge and the need to forgive.

The Rev. Boughton is determined to both enfold his son in love's embrace and save his soul. He judges Jack -- minute by minute, day by day, year by year, and yet he tells himself continually he must forgive. How can these two impulses reside peaceably within the same heart, and how does love fit in? With great difficulty, Robinson may be saying, requiring a greater magnanimity -- grace, if you will -- than we mere humans are likely to possess.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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