Saturday, January 3, 2015
Book Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Author: Marilynne Robinson
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: a clean read
At seventy-seven, the Reverend John Ames knows his heart won't hold out much longer. For most of his life, he led a quiet, solitary life as a Congregationalist minister in Gilead, Iowa. But when he was in his late sixties, grace entered his life in the form of Lila, and together they had a son. And now, Ames knows that he won't live to see that son grow up. Gilead is an extended letter to that boy, a story that goes back to John Ames's own boyhood, with his Civil War-era grandfather (an abolitionist and a pastor) as well as hopes for the boy's future. The story also deals extensively with ne'er do-well John Ames Boughton (the central character of Home, the second book in the Gilead series, and the son of Reverend Ames's best friend, Reverend Boughton).
Gilead is a book I always felt guilty for not reading. After attempting Housekeeping, I didn't think I liked Marilynne Robinson's writing, and never picked up Gilead, even though many of my friends said it was their favorite novel ever. After having my mind blown by Lila a few months ago, I decided to go back and read Gilead. It is a gem of a book, John Ames is a good man with very human struggles, and he looks at those struggles (mostly) honestly. The beginning is a bit of a slog, and I would say it would be even more difficult to settle into the rhythms and cadences of John Ames's speech if I hadn't recently read Lila, and probably even more if I hadn't listened to an audio version of the book. This isn't one to speed read. It's a book with a lot of grace and wonderful ideas about parental love. It made me wonder if I don't cherish my children enough because I take my time with them for granted. I still think Lila is a superior book, but I finally do understand what all of the fuss is about with Gilead.