Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, 325 pp.
Marilynne Robinson is, above all else, a novelist of transfigured reality. In her fiction, the everyday is made eternal through humble, reverent attention to places and people. Robinson’s novels and essays, deeply influenced by her Calvinist reading of theology, reveal a world freighted with God’s presence.
In “Credo,” a beautiful essay published in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Robinson writes of the Psalmist’s “primary intuition of the strangeness of it all, of our single selves as unspeakably fragile and brilliant observers of a grandeur for which we have tried through all our generations to find words.” In her first two novels, Housekeeping and Gilead, Robinson continued the Psalmist’s project, attending to the uncanniness of mundane realities. She is a master of what the Russian formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky called defamiliarization: the making strange of the world through careful perception. For Robinson, this making strange is a prayerful act. To see clouds that soak up the light “like a stain” and the sky become “bright as tin,” as Ruth does in Housekeeping, is to apprehend how the world is laden with significance. To perceive, like John Ames in Gilead, that there can be “the feeling of a...