Idaho’s daughter, Marilynne Robinson

Friday again and time for another state in our literary journey through the U.S.

So, here’s my dilemma. Last week I chose John Grisham to represent Virginia, but struggled to choose a particular novel. As one astute commenter noted, Grisham’s novels tend to be set in Mississippi or elsewhere, but not actually in Virginia.

So, my question is: Should I choose writers based on where they were born and/or raised, or novels based on how well they embody the spirit of a state?

I have been trying to do both, but this isn’t always possible. You may be thinking, “Shouldn’t you have figured this out sooner than state #19?” Yes, I should have, but I honestly thought I would simply be responding to Melanie Jones’ picks each week! However, now that the school year is over, she seems to have discontinued her series… But have no fear! I will continue to post on a state a week.

So, if I am unable to choose a work that both encompasses the spirit of the state AND is written by a native son or daughter, which way should I go? I think I’m leaning toward selecting a work that encompasses the spirit of a state, if at all possible. I like this plan because we really have no control over where we are born, but usually have some control over where we ultimately choose to live.  On the other hand, our first experiences are so influential that I’m sure our birth place shapes and molds us, even if subconsciously.  So, what do you think?

This week’s selection is a perfect example of the above dilemma.  I have chosen Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, (set in the town of Fingerbone, Idaho), even though she has spent much of her life in Iowa, where her Pulitzer prize winning Gilead was set.  So, maybe I should choose her twice!   
Purple Mountain Majesty
Creative Commons License photo credit: BY-YOUR-⌘

 According to

Not only is regionalism not dead, it’s not even wounded. Suddenly, the cultural implications of place are once again in heavy rotation in art criticism. In this vein, the Henry Gallery hosts an admirable series titled, “A Sense of Where We Are II : History and Literature of the Pacific Northwest.”

Marilynne Robinson, who speaks as part of this series Wednesday night at 7, was born in Sandpoint, Idaho, and received a PhD in English from the University of Washington in 1977.

Her first novel, Housekeeping from 1980, was set in the fictional Fingerbone, Idaho; her second, Gilead from 2004, is Midwestern through and through, as is she, having lived in Iowa most of her adult life.

Even so, cheers to the Henry for claiming her for the Northwest. Cultural imperialism is good for the victors, and besides, we have grounds. Housekeeping is the female version of Sometimes A Great Notion. It lacks Ken Kesey’s swagger, but matches him for pared-down purity and langurous ease, as if fluid complexities were easy to create, sentence by sentence, and easy to fuse into worlds.

Housekeeping is about the urge to pull away from home, to seek the “normal,” and the counter compulsion to stay with those who are at home, even when they’re on the move.

Park Overlooking Lake Coeur d'Alene
Creative Commons License photo credit: rachaelvoorhees

What an appropriate choice this week!

I first reviewed Housekeeping in February and was pleased when I received an order for a custom kit on it this week.  So, I will be spending next week becoming reacquainted with this gentle, moving testament to such a beautiful setting.

If you’re thinking I should’ve chosen Hemingway to represent Idaho, I considered it — he would’ve been an appropriate choice for Northern Michigan, too.  Ironically, he once described his birthplace of Oak Park, IL as a place of “wide lawns and narrow minds”!  Sigh…

Curious about the other states we’ve covered?

Photo by marxchivist

First, from Melanie Jones:

  • Alabama: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (check out my To Kill A Mockingbird Sample Kit!)
  • Michigan: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides
  • Alaska: The Man Who Swam With Beavers by Nancy Lord
  • Arizona: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
  • North Dakota: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
  • Vermont: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Hawaii: Heads by Harry by Lois-ann Yamanaka
  • Georgia: Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
  • And I went out on my own for…

  • Florida: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Zeale Hurston
  • Minnesota: In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien
  • Wisconsin: When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton
  • Louisiana: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (Jones’ pick) and The Awakening by Kate Chopin (my pick)
  • Colorado: Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  • Maryland: Anything by Anne Tyler
  • Georgia: Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Ohio: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Arkansas: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Virginia:  John Grisham 
  • Wondering where your state is? Coming soon… In the meantime, weigh in on future picks!

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    8. Christopher Meyerhoeffer says:

      Kristen, was kind enough to allow me to also let you know about my new legal thriller novel. It is called DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE and it is set in Idaho. Since I live and practice law in Idaho and teach criminal justice for Boise State University and the College of Southern Idaho, this novel has truly been a labor of love for me. If you are interested, please go to the following Amazon website to check out the cover and read excerpts from the story.

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