Framing Marilynne Robinson's fiction within the dynamics of everyday life, this study highlights the tensions of form and content that haunt moments of transcendence in her work. Robinson's novels, it argues, construct a world that is mimetic as well as symbolic and revelatory. Although the heightened apprehension of the quotidian in Robinson's novels often registers powerfully and beautifully in representational terms, its aesthetic intensity is enacted at the expense of characters who patrol the margins of the ordinary with unceasing vigilance. Inhabiting the everyday self-consciously, her protagonists perform a forced relationship to the ordinary that seldom relaxes into the natural or the familiar; scarred by grief, illness, aging, and trauma, they inhabit a world of transcendent beauty suffused with the terrifying threat of loss. Stiffly perched on the edge of un-cushioned furniture or propped awkwardly in the midst of someone else's conversation, Robinson's characters hover in the margins of a lived experience they are often forced to observe self-consciously and vigilantly. The signature acts of transfiguration that punctuate Robinson's narratives originate from and anticipate the inevitability of absence: the death of loved ones (Housekeeping), the impending death of the self (Gilead), the fracture of family (Home), the repetition of trauma and abandonment (Lila), the prohibition of everyday intimacy in interracial romance (Jack).
Highlighting the tensions of the uncomfortable ordinary that disrupt a trajectory of transcendence in her fiction, this book situates Robinson's novels within sociological, psychological, and phenomenological studies of trauma, grief, aging, race, and gender, as well as narrative theory and everyday life studies. Focusing on the experiential dynamics of the lived worlds her novels invoke, The Elusive Everyday argues for the complexity, relevance, and contemporaneity of Robinson's fiction.