‘Jackness, Jackitude, Jackicity’ – the qualities of Jack are as mysterious to himself as to others, but he likes to play with words when he ponders the question of who or what he is. Jack is the atheist and prodigal son whose longed-for return to his devout Presbyterian family in Gilead, Iowa, is central to the first two of Marilynne Robinson’s prize-winning Gilead novels. In the first, we see him through the eyes of the preacher John Ames, his father’s old friend, as a faintly menacing and finally forgivable presence. In the second, Home, we get a closer view through his sister Glory’s eyes and learn that he has a black wife, Della Miles, a high school teacher. In this, the fourth book in which he appears, we get right inside Jack’s skull and dive ten years into the past to the back story of his and Della’s problematic love affair as it unfolds in St Louis, Missouri, in 1946, when mixed-race marriages are forbidden by law.
In an interview some years ago, Robinson said she would lose Jack if she got too close to him as a narrator: ‘he’s alienated in a complicated way.’ This seems to have been a challenge she couldn’t resist in the end – and she hasn’t lost