Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Word to the wise: Not all that much happens in Gilead. It's one of my new favorites, and even I will admit that. However, that doesn't mean it isn't a fantastic novel. It didn't win the Pulitzer Prize for nuthin'.

The premise is thus: The Rev. John Ames, pastor of the Congregationalist Church in Gilead, Iowa, is dying. He is 76, but married late and has a young son.

Fearing his child is too young to remember him as he really is, the Rev. decides he's going to fill a notebook with rembrances and musings that his son can read as an adult and know where he comes from. Gilead is comprised entirely of that series of writings.

So, really the book is a love letter about fathers and sons, mothers and brothers. And what it lacks in plot, it makes up for in mood.

One can tell the Rev. Ames has lived a good, long life; his only fear of dying is what will happen to the loved ones in his life once he is gone. He worries most about his bride - a much-younger woman who has brought him happiness in his old age - and his son, but he also tells stories about his best friend's troubled son and the dynamic he witnessed firsthand between his own father and grandfather.

Normally I find so-called "literary" novels to be pretentious and depressing. Gilead is a refreshingly-honest departure from that kind of book. I could almost imagine the clear Iowan air as I read along.

No, not a lot happens, but the Rev. Ames is able to squeeze a lot about faith and life into these pages anyway.

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