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At Paradise Gate (1981)

by Jane Smiley

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284671,417 (3.34)26
The story of a man, whose wife and daughters refuse to accept the fact that he is dying.
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This is a story of family relationships, and in particular about how a marriage of 52 years plays out over time. Ike Robison is terminally ill, and his three middle-aged daughters and 23-year-old granddaughter descend on the family home to help their mother, Anna, care for Ike and herself. This is a story told through seemingly everyday conversations about dinner, an annoying dog, hiring a nurse..... At the same time, the conversations reveal a back story of growing up, of living a life when you are committed to someone for the long haul.

Jane Smiley's books for me are hit and miss, but this one is a real winner in my opinion.. ( )
  LynnB | Aug 16, 2018 |
Some novels shout their message from the rooftops. Others convey it in a quieter, more reflective tone. Interestingly, I found [At Paradise Gate] to be an odd blending of both. On the one hand, the story is a noisy cacophony of voices and movement, not unlike any other family gathering steeped in reminiscing and punctuated with sibling rivalries, strongly voiced opinions/judgements and repeated unwanted offers of assistance, all under the guise of “being there for Mom in this time of need”, even when “being there” is, at times, the last thing Mom wants. The story doesn't contain any surprising 'reveals' considering the reader knows right from the start that Ike is terminally ill, but it does contain some wonderful insights into the mindset of an elderly woman who, after fifty-two years of marriage, is at a major crossroad, examining what was and what is yet to be as she faces the tension, anxiety and memory conjuring an approaching death vigil brings, followed by the release and the continuance of life. That examination is the quieter, more reflective tone of the story. The story is very much Anna's story. Ike and the girls are the 'noise' that Anna has to face while trying to come to terms with what this means to her and her life going forward. The conversations presented in the story are not unusual. It is the very ordinariness of the 36 hours captured that makes this one such a wonderful, rich read for me. The entire Robison family is laid bare for the reader, with all of their history and personality traits on display. By the time you finish reading this story, you will probably know the Robison family better than you know you own family, that is the depth Smiley brings to the story. You are pulled into their family and exposed in a way that would probably make a visitor squirm uncomfortably, but as a reader, it's just an acute, detailed display of literary voyeurism. One quote that sums up this story nicely is:

You know what marriage is? It's agreeing to take this person who is right now at the top of his form, full of hopes and ideas, feeling good, looking good, wildly interested in you because you're the same way, and sticking by him while he slowly disintegrates. And he does the same for you. you're his responsibility now, and he's yours. If no one else will take care of him, you will. If everyone else rejects you, he won't.

Overall, a story that speaks to the march of time, the frailty of love, and the depth of compassion that resides within all of us, even when it strained. ( )
  lkernagh | Mar 18, 2016 |
While seventy-seven year old Ike Robison is dying in his bedroom upstairs, his wife Anna defends the citadel of their marriage from the ill-considered, albeit loving invasion, of their three middle-aged daughters and twenty-three year old granddaughter. Helen, Claire and Susanna claim they have come to help their mother, Anna, and to cheer their father towards recuperation. Although, it appears to their mother that her daughters have arrived only to raid her refrigerator and to gripe and snipe at each other about their recollections of old rivalries.

Bright, fresh-faced Christine arrives and presents the family with a new set of problems - her impending pregnancy and forthcoming divorce. Anna, herself, is reflecting on her life. Her life has been difficult for Anna, her marriage to Ike harshly violent, uprooting and cold. Unburdened by sentiment, Anna acknowledges to herself that she is angry at her husband for abandoning her and that her daughters remain so dependent, even into their adulthood.

Despite the simmering anger and resentment which is directed at her husband, Anna has grown used to Ike and truly can't imagine her life without him. She is confronted by her own frailties, and the imminence of Ike's death has left her in a devastating conundrum about what she should do next. Anna ultimately achieves a quiet certainty about her right to what's left of her world.

I thought this was a very good book. It was an easy read for me, and even though nothing earth-shattering happened in the plot, At Paradise Gate by Jane Smiley was still a very pleasant read. This book was filled with moments of quiet introspection, rather than huge cliffhanger plot twists. The writing was beautiful and I give this book an A+! I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary fiction. ( )
1 vote moonshineandrosefire | Oct 20, 2012 |
I found this to be an excellent read. The telling of this family's story struck a chord - the love, the dysfunction, the sadness - and the difficulty reconciling it all. Not as lyrical as Marilynne Robinson, but this book reminded me of one of her stories. This was my first Smiley book - and I look forward to reading more. ( )
  Griff | Dec 29, 2009 |
Smiley has a way of making her readers uncomfortable in telling the truths that lie beneath the surfaces of All-American families. This novel peels away the layers of a marriage from its earliest days, told in flashback memories, through to the next generation of three daughters, and into the next with a granddaughter. The day-to-day interactions of the present are awkward with the characters trying to figure out how to act, to respond to one another, and, ultimately, to face the demise of the patriarch. ( )
  Jeanomario | Sep 29, 2008 |
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...while I complain of being able to glimpse no more than the shadow of the past, I may be insensitive to reality as it is taking shape at this very moment, since I have not reached the stage of development at which I would be capable of perceiving it. A few hundred years hence, in this same place, another traveler, as despairing as myself, will mourn the disappearance of what I might have seen, but failed to see. I am subject to a double infirmity; all that I perceive offends me, and I constantly reproach myself for not seeing as much as I should.

- Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, 1955
(translated by J. and D. Weightman, 1974)
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Like their father, Anna Robison's three daughters loved to remember.
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