H. William Davis: The Last Book I Loved, Housekeeping


The winter is rough, and I live under a bridge hanging over a creek which freezes solid and blocks me from the rest of the world. You can’t rush past this bridge, it will knock you on your ass, send you home with bruises running like spring water all up and down your leg. You have to slow down.

This is what I learned from Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. Following the lives of sisters Ruth and Lucille, who are continually met by tragedy in what is portrayed as an otherwise “ordinary life,” it becomes apparent that time moves slow; and if you want to move with it, you have to be slow as well. You have to let moments drift in and out of your periphery; all the while your pupils expand and contract, searching for answers in the obvious.

Watching these sisters grow up under the spell of repetition, abandonment, routine, it becomes clear that I’ve always been drawn to the mental fatigue that comes with daily life. In between the pages, I’m forced to come to Robinson’s conclusion, to the same sum as Ruth and Lucille, and their transient aunt Sylvie: “It’s the loneliness, loneliness bothers lots of people.” It’s such a familiar sensation, it echoes in my fingertips. It makes Robinson feel like a mystic, a guide to the otherworld of mental peace and forgiveness that is simply incarnated in Sylvie’s body. The representation of loneliness in Housekeeping is that of quiet, of stillness, the void that reeks of nothingness until you abandon all other definitions.

Despite poring over the pages and absorbing the tragedies of family history, when I put myself in their shoes and wiggled my toes there was so much extra room. I’ve always had a home. It’s moments where you realize what you have, what others don’t have, that make you question what you are. Anxious, jaded, spoiled. No words sound pretty in a mirror.

But something still reached out to me in the midst of all their trouble, because it wasn’t really about being homeless, or losing your mother; it was a about not having a place in the world, a familiar feeling in your spine when staring into darkness—”It’s the loneliness.”

Loneliness is a product of the mind, it does not coincide with being alone. I can be alone and feel fine; in fact most of the time I work in reverse. I hide from others and sit in front of a computer and work and I am happy; yet I sit with my friends and my tongue searches the inside of my cheek for words that no longer exist. There is an invisible movement pushing from all around me, telling me my time here is up, look for something new. Anxious, jaded, spoiled. Loneliness is being surrounded by that invisible feeling that tells you something isn’t right, you need to move, you don’t belong here.

How many people do you know who live in a house they built with their own hands? Ruth and Sylvie confront nature, but recess back into the corners of their mind. They are safe there amongst the walls they’ve built for themselves. Our home is in our hearts and our heads, and the real definition of housekeeping is self-preservation. I will leave my house today, but I will move very slowly across the pillar of ice.

Davis lives in Morgantown, West Virginia where he writes and runs a library out of his spare bedroom. He plants books in the earth and carves stories into trees. He has been featured in Calliope, West Virginia University's undergraduate literary magazine, side b magazine, and The Rumpus. More from this author →