Anyone who has read this novel either knows exactly where I’m going or is questioning my sanity. Are there characters more homeless than these? Each of the 9 sections in the novel is the name of a different place. Talk about temporary. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the main characters Oliver and Susan Burling Ward were the free-spirited, adventurous, traveling types. But it’s painfully obvious that Susan is the rooting type. As her grandson/the narrator says, “There was a real nester in that woman,” and her husband’s big dreams and constant job-chasing simply aren’t conducive to that. At the very least, I understand Susan’s frustration. Our hearts are homeless together. Sometimes, it’s therapeutic just knowing you aren’t alone.
When I first read Angle of Repose, I thought that all of the cities Susan lived in were just stops on the way to her real home --- which I wrongly assumed would be the last “stop” in the novel. But as I was re-skimming, it dawned on me that there were moments when she was “home” even when she was in the throes of a strange city. Exhibit A: Boise Canyon. “Abandoned in its gulch, its garden gone to weeds, its fences down, its ditches drifted full, its windows out, [etc., etc., etc.] it would look like failure and lost cause. But while they were there it was a hopeful struggle, not lost cause, and for a while it was a little corner of Eden” (371). Exhibit B: Michoacán. I couldn’t find a good passage to prove it, but she was totally ready to be a Mexican mama. My point is this, if Susan could find that feeling of home in a run-down house in the middle of Boise or on a Mexican veranda, just maybe “home” has nothing to do where you’re at or even how stable/permanent the place is. Home is a feeling, an attitude. Here's the real kicker: we're in control of that feeling. Why else would one city be so homey to Susan and another so the opposite? Even when they are equally strange to her. I have to blame how open-minded or bitter she was at that point in time.
Some of the last words in the novel are: “Wisdom is knowing what you have to accept.” What I, what we, have to accept is that life is full of temporary homes. Changing homes will always hurt. I think Susan would say (in much more eloquent language, if she could speak from a fictitious grave): “It’s like breaking a bone. When it’s time to leave, accept the pain. Think of me and know that you (thee) aren’t alone. Learn from my bad example and never forget that ‘a broken bone thickens in healing’ if you let it” (381). Well said, Susan, well said. But break it must...break it must.
Writing Song*: “Coming Home” by Gwenyth Paltrow and “Temporary Home” by Carrie Underwood
*I write to music. It’s usually one particular song each time, and I wouldn’t be a good music missionary if I didn’t share with all of you.