Sunday, January 2, 2011

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

And god bless your eyes, and your hearing also and of course your heart. I wish I could help you carry the weight of many years. But the Lord will have that fatherly satisfaction.

Gilead takes the form of a letter from John Ames to his son, who was born when Ames about 70. Ames knows he won't be around to see his son grow up, so he wants to write down all of the things he would have told him if he had been around. Similar idea as The Last Lecture except fictitious and much more theological, as Ames is a preacher in rural Iowa, as his father and grandfather were before him. For the most part the book follows a stream of consciousness, diary type of format as Ames writes down his musings about God and life in general and works in stories from his life and the lives of his father and grandfather and the impact they had on him. He tells about how he lost his first wife and daughter, how he met his son's mother, and the blessing it was for his son to be born after years of yearning to be a father and giving up hope as he aged. About halfway through the novel Ames begins to focus more and more on the reappearance of his best friend's son, Jack, into his life. Jack's given name is John Ames Boughton; as you can probably discern, Ames's friend named his son after his friend. Though old Boughton envisioned Ames as a second father for Jack, Jack is a ne'er do well and he and Ames have a strained relationship from the moment Ames baptizes him. At this point I think Robinson gets a little off track; Ames stops imparting wisdom and starts using the letter to work out his the troubles that Jack causes him. It seems like if a real John Ames were actually writing this letter to a real son, he wouldn't have included many of these sections, especially the way the story resolves itself. However, the story is interesting and we get a better picture of Ames's character, which is what I think Robinson was going for.

Overall, I found the writing in Gilead appealing and Ames's discussion of his faith to be interesting and moving. Even though every once in awhile it got a little tedious, I would recommend this book.


Brent Waggoner said...

I read this lst year, and completely agree with your assessment. It moved really, really slowly, but the writing was so beautiful and the conflicts so fully realized it really won me over.

billy said...

exactly, you said it better than i did.

Mrs de Winter said...

It's a couple of years since I read this, but I too thought the writing was beautiful. Thanks for the reminder!