Sunday, August 14, 2011
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
John Ames, the narrator of Marilynne Robinson's unusual Gilead, knows his life is coming to a close, that his heart is counting down to its last beat. So this seventy-six year-old small-town preacher pens a letter to his seven-year-old son. His letter, the novel, meanders from philosophizing about life and religion to telling family history. Fortunately for the reader, John Ames is a very pleasant man to spend some time with. He's the sort of fellow you could sit with on a porch on a warm summer's night and listen to him while away the time as you sip tea and watch the fireflies blink.
The first half of the book is not much more exciting than that porch chat. It takes a long time for Robinson to introduce any tension, and once she does it's pretty slight. But, in the end, the beauty of her language and Ames's observations make the time spent worthwhile. For example, take this gem from the end of the book: "There is no justice in love, no proportion to it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality."
Ames is a humble, thoughtful man who recognizes his follies (sometimes) and is wise enough to acknowledge his mistakes. He shares the lessons learned and not learned in a lifetime, and it's a pleasure to share the journey with him. Particularly if you're not in a hurry to be entertained but can sit back and savor the conversation.
(Apparently this book won the Pulitzer in 2005.)