Home Summary (Jayne Anne Phillips)

Jayne Anne Phillips


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unnamed twenty-three-year-old narrator/protagonist, finding herself “out of money” and not “in love,” returns home to live temporarily with her mother, who secures her a tutoring job. Her mother, a divorced school administrator, leads a quiet life in a small town resembling the author’s West Virginia hometown. The mother spends evenings knitting and watching television; the closest she comes to a man is watching Walter Cronkite, television’s grandfatherly news anchorman, who she fears has cancer. After a liberated life in college and later in California, the narrator finds the home routine dull. Rather than watch television, she starts going to her room at night to read and think. She offers her mother “a subscription to something mildly informative: Ms., Rolling Stone, Scientific American.” Her mother declines.

One subject that the narrator thinks about is her mother’s early life, recalled in old photographs. The mother attended college, then became a cadet nurse, but World War II ended before she finished her nurse’s training. She came home to care for her sick mother and eventually to marry the narrator’s father: “She married him in two weeks. It took twenty years to divorce him.” The mother, it appears, married him for strictly practical purposes: “He was older, she said. He had a job and a car. And Mother was so sick.” Perhaps a related reason for the marriage’s failure was sex—or the lack thereof. After reading in her mother’s Reader’s Digest about a girl carried off by a grizzly bear, the narrator dreams that her father approaches her sexually: “I think to myself, it’s been years since he’s had an erection.” In the final years of their marriage, the mother refused to have sex with the father.

On weekends, the narrator gets away from home by attending rummage sales, but these, too, recall the past and raise the specter of sexuality. An old football sweater for sale reminds the narrator of Jason, her high school boyfriend who...

(The entire section is 836 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Phillips’s only story in the Black Tickets collection with any degree of humor, “Home” was considered by many critics to be the best work in the book. In reference to “Home,” John Irving noted that Phillips “shows us the good instinct to tell stories in which something that matters takes place.”

What matters to Irving, then, is telling the story of the ordinary American family. “Home” has all the typical elements of one of three distinct story types appearing in Black Tickets. It is of conventional short-story length, and the plot depicts the tragedies that occur in ordinary family relationships. There is the typical protagonist in her middle twenties, a divorced parent, and strained conversation revealing unresolved conflict. These elements reveal Phillips’s interest in the psychological connections and gaps found in generations of families.

With this well-crafted first-person narrative, Phillips brings her reader into an average American living room where an ordinary, uncelebrated homecoming takes place. The mother watches the evening news and worries about Walter Cronkite getting cancer while she warns her neglectful daughter that she “will be sorry when she is gone.” Guilt plays a vital role in this mother-daughter relationship. The narrator’s divorced mother reminisces about how devoted she was to the care of her own invalid mother, expressing, but never actually admitting, her hurt at being...

(The entire section is 402 words.)