Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 2004, Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize

It's about: This book is a series of musings, thoughts, and experiences of one John Ames, a Congregationalist minster living in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. He is writing down his history and advice for his seven year old son because he is old and will soon die. Ames' namesake, John ("Jack") Ames Boughton, is the son of Ames' best friend and fellow minister Robert Boughton. Ames struggles with feelings of bitterness and resentment that he has been harboring toward Jack, who was very rebellious and mean-spirited as a child. Jack, now about 40 years old, has returned to Gilead, befriending Ames' young wife and playing ball with Ames' son. Ames struggles to deal with the bitter feelings he has toward Jack, who has taken to calling him "Papa."

I thought: This book didn't have a clear plotline, and thus didn't hold my attention very strongly, especially near the beginning. It also had a surprisingly strong religious tone, something not very common at all in more contemporary literature, and I imagine this would put off some readers. However, I think Robinson did a fabulous job taking theology - a subject that feels quite distant and difficult to relate to - and presenting it to readers through a very likable and relatable narrator. Ultimately I loved the way Robinson explored the idea of the sacred and the way it can be expressed through the father-son relationship. The ending was absolutely beautiful.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: If you want or need a book to help remind you of how beautiful religion can be, this is the book for you.

Warnings: None.

Favorite excerpts:
I'd never have believed I'd see a wife of mine doting on a child of mine. It still amazes me every time I think of it. I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.