Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book review - "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead Pictures, Images and Photos

I finished reading this in the wee hours of the morning last night. Here's the Publisher's Weekly synopsis:

"Fans of Robinson's acclaimed debut Housekeeping (1981) will find that the long wait has been worth it. From the first page of her second novel, the voice of Rev. John Ames mesmerizes with his account of his life—and that of his father and grandfather. Ames is 77 years old in 1956, in failing health, with a much younger wife and six-year-old son; as a preacher in the small Iowa town where he spent his entire life, he has produced volumes and volumes of sermons and prayers, "[t]rying to say what was true." But it is in this mesmerizing account—in the form of a letter to his young son, who he imagines reading it when he is grown—that his meditations on creation and existence are fully illumined. Ames details the often harsh conditions of perishing Midwestern prairie towns, the Spanish influenza and two world wars. He relates the death of his first wife and child, and his long years alone attempting to live up to the legacy of his fiery grandfather, a man who saw visions of Christ and became a controversial figure in the Kansas abolitionist movement, and his own father's embittered pacifism. During the course of Ames's writing, he is confronted with one of his most difficult and long-simmering crises of personal resentment when John Ames Boughton (his namesake and son of his best friend) returns to his hometown, trailing with him the actions of a callous past and precarious future. In attempting to find a way to comprehend and forgive, Ames finds that he must face a final comprehension of self—as well as the worth of his life's reflections. Robinson's prose is beautiful, shimmering and precise; the revelations are subtle but never muted when they come, and the careful telling carries the breath of suspense. There is no simple redemption here; despite the meditations on faith, even readers with no religious inclinations will be captivated. Many writers try to capture life's universals of strength, struggle, joy and forgiveness—but Robinson truly succeeds in what is destined to become her second classic."

This book is beautifully written, there is just no other way to describe it. It is exceptionally introspective from the point of view of Rev. John Ames. The only negative thing that I have to say about this book is that if you are looking for a plot in any way, you will be disappointed. It is written in letter format to his young son and that is exactly what you will find, a letter with several anecdotal episodes along the way.

With my own father passing a little over a year ago, reading this book made me wonder what he would have written if he had left a similar "letter" to my brother and me. It also gave me pause to consider that even from a minister's point of view of Christianity, it is commonplace that they don't feel that they have all the answers to life's questions either and ponder things just like the rest of us.

This book was kind of a slow read for me, but definitely a beautiful piece of literature worth checking out.

Next up? "The Lace Reader" by Brunonia Barry

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