Monday, December 7, 2009

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Genre: General fiction
Publisher, Year: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2004
Other Works: Housekeeping
Flags: Teen angst
Rating: A+ or Must Read Now!
Challenge: Book Awards III, Countdown
Premise: A loyal preacher comes to the end of his life and writes a journal for his young son to have as a legacy after he's gone.

I’d heard about Marilynne Robinson’s first book Housekeeping from the Books on the Nightstand podcast and became interested in her. So, when I signed up for the Book Awards Challenge, I decided to make Gilead one of my picks. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish on time, but better late than never! I find it fitting that the last book was the one I enjoyed the most.

Gilead is written as a journal from the perspective of Reverend John Ames. John has a heart condition and know he won’t live long. He married late in life, and so has a young son, about six or seven. And so, he wants to leave his son something of himself behind. Throughout the book, John chronicles the lives of his grandfather and father (who were also preachers), a difficult relationship with his best friend’s son (who was named after him), and his own sad first marriage, where his wife and daughter both passed away in childbirth. Set in Iowa, Robinson takes the reader through several generations of small town life in a turbulent world. +/-

I loved this book down to the final words. What’s so wonderful about this book is that it’s simplicity itself. It’s about a simple man who lived a common life and strived for a peaceful and meaningful existence. In that, there is great beauty and wisdom.

Through each generation, Robinson explores the friction that evolves between father and son. Although times change, relationships do not. As long as the world turns, conflicts will arise. And as long as conflicts arise, fathers and sons will have differing opinions and will hurt and disappoint each other. For example, at one point John reminisces about traveling with his father to find his grandfathers grave in another state. The journey was hard and long and they didn’t have enough food. But, the lessons he learned on the trip were what he remembered: that his father loved him and sacrificed for him. Even though he has many disappointments in his life, I think the uplifting moments are more sacred to him than any disappointments can dispel.

Ultimately, I think Gilead is a book about forgiveness—about acceptance. About leaving history in the past and looking forward to a brighter future. About letting our circumstances be what they are and accepting them with quiet and confident resolve. John’s voice is one that resonates in my head, though I’ve turned the last page—a true American treasure.


Lisa said...

I loved this book. I thought it was so beautifully written and I could so easily see this man sitting down and writing it. I also liked the "Home" and recommend it for another side to this story although I didn't enjoy it as much.

Cam said...

Hi Lisa! I didn't realize Home was related to Gilead that way. I'd be very interested to revisit some of those characters.