This June, as a grandfather clock rang the quarter-hour in her modest Iowa City living room, the American novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, a woman of 70 who speaks in sentences that accumulate into polished paragraphs, made a confession: “I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear.”
Perched on the edge of a sofa, hands loosely clasped, Robinson leaned forward as if breaking bad news to a gentle heart. “What it comes down to — and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently — is that fear is an excuse: ‘I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn’t.’
Fear is so opportunistic that people can call on it under the slightest provocations: ‘He looked at me funny.’ ”
“ ‘So I shot him,’ ” I said.
“Exactly.”“ ‘Can you blame me?’ ”
‘‘Exactly. Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”