Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Marilynne Robinson's Gilead

As promised, a report on the other non-work-related book I’m reading. I’ll try to keep this one brief, I promise.

In January, 2006, Marilynne Robinson published Gilead, only her second novel in 25 years. (She also produced two non-fiction books during that time.) The first, Housekeeping, won the PEN/Hemingway award. Not bad, but this one topped it; it won the Pulitzer.

Valerie Ryan, from, did a pretty good job laying out the premise:

The narrator, John Ames, is 76, a preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. He is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son, the blessing of his second marriage. It is a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. Robinson takes the story away from being simply the reminiscences of one man and moves it into the realm of a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith, and on the imperfectability of man. The reason for the letter is Ames's failing health. He wants to leave an account of himself for this son who will never really know him.

I’m on page 65 of 247. As I understand it, most of the plot is yet to come, but I really don't mind one bit. I read it before bed, and it’s well-suited to that. Robinson’s prose is simultaneously highly crafted and clear as a mountain stream. On the page, Publishers Weekly said “Many writers try to capture life's universals of strength, struggle, joy and forgiveness—but Robinson truly succeeds.” This is true. Robinson keeps away from sentiment. When Ames marvels at this mysterious world, he steers me right into his own sense of wonder and joy, and I have found myself with tears in my eyes a couple of times already.

There are various other themes woven in, including a lovely one on Ames’s grandfather, a larger-than-life abolitionist who fought in the Midwest during the Civil War. The history that’s revealed thereby is quite engaging.

Stay tuned for more on this rewarding book.

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