Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I won't be speaking much on this book, as I just finished it 2 weeks after we discussed it in our book club at the Bay Ridge Jewish Center.

Overall, it was okay. It won the Pulitzer last year, an astonishing fact as it is definitely a slooooow read and a very stolid narrative. I was interested enough to finish it, albeit belatedly, but the overall premise was trying.

Here's the gist:

In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He "preached men into the Civil War," then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father--an ardent pacifist--and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend's wayward son.

This is also the tale of another remarkable vision--not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames's soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.

Gilead is the long-hoped-for second novel by one of our finest writers, a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part.

Not to be too harsh, but the writing is good, just not riveting. I never read Robinson's first novel, Housekeeping, but that was supposed to be a real treat. If you find the summary above from the jacket compelling, go for it. Otherwise, skip it. It's a decent book, but there are so many great books out there, it is disappointing to have to spend the time on one that just barely delivers the goods.

1 comment:

mellomouth said...

all that happened in the book????
I wouldn't know. I couldn't get past page 79 before quitting. Which was almost as far as Diane got - she got to page 90. At least I wasn;t the only book club member to NOT finish the book.