Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows “even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order” (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. [Taken from Goodreads. Source the same as image.]
I was actually supposed to read this book a while ago for one of my classes, but it was the last week of school, I had two fifteen page papers do, and I just couldn’t bring myself to read this as well. So it got left behind, though I knew I would read it over the summer. I had heard amazing things about this book even before I had to read it for my post-secular lit. class, and was genuinely disappointed that I couldn’t participate in discussion about it. Anyways, I’ve finally read it, and let me just say, wow.
Sometimes it’s easy to say what you like about the book. Often when it is easy, it’s because the plot is simply captivating or the prose is beautiful or one of the characters really resonated with you, stuff like that. This book is not one of those books. I loved it, but I’m having difficulty saying why. It’s a book with a rather slow pace that those who dislike the text attribute to it being nothing more than the senile ramblings of a dying man in the boring state of Iowa. While yes John Ames is dying and does live in the (yes sometimes boring, yet beautiful) state of Iowa. They say the plot is too scattered and would have been better told in a more linear, less journal-like manner. I do not hold these opinions.
Yes the book took me longer to read than one its length typically does, but I attribute that more to the richness of Robinson’s words than to the slow and careful writings of a man trying to preserve some of himself for his young son before he leaves. This novel is the type of book that you could read many many times and still find new depths to it. (It didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for nothing.) While the plot itself didn’t resonate with me much (and a plot does not need to resonate with its reader), there is no way I can ignore the wisdom pouring out from this book. Often a line would just make me stop and reflect on how true it was not just in the context of the narrative, but in the world. I considered sharing some of them, but though I find them absolutely wonderful on their own, I feel the first time they are encountered should be in the context that Robinson put them in. It seems almost wrong to cut up what she has written unless proper time and consideration is given to the practice. As I am not writing a critical paper on this novel, I do not have the time to do such a thing.
Anyways, this book is on many an avid reader’s to-read list, but is often pushed aside until later. If my opinion is worth its salt, I would urge those of you who have been waiting to read it to pick it up as soon as possible. It will not disappoint.
Now, I just need to get my hands on Home and Lila.