Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Gilead

Gilead
By Marilynne Robinson
Picador 2004
247 pages
From my shelves

Gilead

John Ames is an elderly Congregationalist minister living in a small town. He never expected to remarry late in life and be blessed with a child. As his health begins to fail, Ames thinks about the things he wants his son to know. He wonders what words of wisdom he should leave behind and begins to write about his past, his faith, and his conclusions about trying to live a good life. 

From a brief description, this book sounds as if it could be a bit boring. An old man writes down his thoughts on life and love? That's it? But in the capable hands of Marilynne Robinson, this short book is full of warmth and life that will take up residence in your soul. The crux of the brilliance rests in the character Robinson has created. Ames is quiet and contemplative at the end of his life but still holds on to his beliefs with passion. His calm, steadfast love for both his wife and his son is evident in every line that he writes. 

"I'm trying to make the best of our situation. That is, I'm trying to tell you things I might never have thought to tell you if I had brought you up myself, father and son, in the usual companionable way. When things are taking their ordinary course, it is hard to remember what matters. There are so many things you would never think to tell anyone. And I believe they may be the things that mean most to you, and that even your own child would have to know in order to know you well at all."

While Ames has a lot to say about belief in God and the role of a pastor, this book has a universal feel. It's about family and the ways that our upbringing makes us like our parents and also causes us to find our own paths. As he writes about his past, we meet someone in the present who was very dear to Ames and is now a source of worry. His best friend Robert named his son after him, but the young man has not behaved like his namesake. Our narrator spends much of the book trying to decide why he has so much difficulty forgiving this man.. He worries that Jack will encroach on his family when he is gone and perhaps this is a way for him to deal with his fear that his own son will not grow up the way he hopes.

Gilead is not the sort of read that you race through with bated breath. There is no great mystery to solve unless you, like Ames, are looking for answers to those great, quiet mysteries of life. Robinson's writing in this sparse novel is quietly brilliant and reading this book may leave you wondering about your own life and what it is that you will leave behind when you are gone. 

9 comments:

  1. I thought this book was extraordinary. Never would have picked it up if my husband hadn't given it to me for Christmas a few years ago.

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    1. 10 points for the husband!
      This is one of those books that really shouldn't be much of anything, but somehow manages to be wonderful. How does Robinson do it?

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  2. I bought a used copy of this not too long ago after hearing great things about it from so many people. This gives me another reason to pick it up, I just need to squeeze in the right time!

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    1. Wonderful - I will be interested to see what you think!

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  3. I didn't like this book and I'm almost ashamed to say so! It seems that everyone else on the planet adored it and it makes me wonder what in the world is wrong with my brain? lol ;)

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    1. Haha, nothing is wrong with your brain! I've been disappointed by books that other people love. But I'm curious - what didn't you like about it?

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  4. "Quietly brilliant"- Perfect description of this book. I haven't read Home yet but now I must! I enjoyed Robinson's style of writing. Thanks for visiting me @ The Key to the Gate. I am a new follower to your blog on GFC.
    Happy Reading!
    Rebecca

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    1. Apparently Home is Jack's point of view about coming back to his hometown and his interactions with his family and the Ames. It will be interesting to see two sides of the same story.

      Thanks for following! :)

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