Ruth and Lucille are sisters, living in Fingerbone on Fingerbone Lake. At the bottom of the lake lies their grandfather, who was guard on a train that plunged off the bridge one night, years before they were born. There also lies their mother, who one day when Ruth was eight years old drove in from Seattle, left the children on their grandmother's porch, and then went on in the car to the top of a tall cliff and drove off into the blackest depths of the water. Housekeeping is the story of these two children, brought up at first by their silent, orderly grandmother; then for a brief spell by two tottering great-aunts; at last by Sylvie, their mother's sister, summoned back from some circumambient void to take on the responsibility. The title and the theme suggest an updated version of Little Women, but nothing could be further from the truth. The weird poetry of this book owes nothing to benign domesticity. It is a desperate spell cast against loneliness and desolation; and 'house-keeping' is a bitter irony, for though there is a house, in and around which most of the action takes place, no one manages to keep it in any ordinary sense of the word.
LRB 5 March 1981 | PDF Download