Book Thoughts: Gilead

When Gilead by Marilynne Robinson came out in 2004, it was hailed as the long awaited second novel.  So I read her first novel, Housekeeping, to see if the anticipation hubhub was justifyied. I LOVED Housekeeping, but, of course, could not now tell you what it was even about. <sigh> So, after being on my to-be-read list for 6 years now, I have finally read Gilead.  The entire novel is a letter written by a congregational minister, 77-yr old John Ames, to his 7 year old son. Ames has a heart condition, and knows he will not be around for long. His wife tells their son that “he is writing your begats.” The letter starts out with family and personal history and is very engaging. I confess that I had trouble wading through the middle part which is much more Ames waxing philosophical about life and religion and forgiveness. By the end, it sounds more like a letter from father to son again, with two great fatherly advice lines that I especially loved.

There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.

I’ll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the middle of the book (and it might just be that I wasn’t in the mood for something that thoughtful), Robinson’s writing is fantastic. She does an amazing job with the single tone/voice of this book, becoming John Ames. It is like watching a one-actor play, not a lot of action or scenery or changing focus, but when done well, that stark stage and the consistent,  believable emotion of a superb actor can be the very best theater. Robinson’s writing makes this qualify as very best literature, but it’s not for everybody. I think this could spark a fabulous discussion in the right book club, discussing the religious themes would be very enlightening.

Robinson has since written Home, which is a companion novel of sorts to Gilead. Wonder how long it will take me to get to that one?

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