The novel, Jack by Marilynn Robinson, follows three other novels set in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa. Actually, Jack, who grew up in Gilead, the son of a Presbyterian minister, is no longer in his hometown. We meet Jack in St. Louis, living in a single room, making his way with an occasional job and help from his brother, Teddy. A chance encounter at night in a cemetery with a young woman named Della changes both of their lives forever. They talk the night away, but Jack knows they must part before dawn when other people will be arriving because Della is a beautiful young black woman and a high school teacher and Jack is white and down on his luck. It isn’t long before Della is warned by her school principal to end her relationship with Jack.
Jack is many things besides being white that do not recommend him to Della or perhaps any other woman. He describes himself in the following way, “I am a gifted thief, I lie fluently, often for no reason. I am a bad but confirmed drunk. I have no talent for friendship…I am aware instantly and almost obsessively of anything fragile, with the thought that I must and will break it.” He is the different one in his family which perhaps explains some of the bad choices he has made. Amazingly, he knows that if he walked into his family home, this prodigal son would be accepted, but he can’t quite bring himself to take that step.