Jul 14, 2019IndyPL_SteveB rated this title 5 out of 5 stars
If you ever see a booklist on the subject of “the experience of being a human” and the list does NOT include *Gilead*, don’t trust the list. This is one of the absolute best American novels and should be a long-term classic. Marilynne Robinson is sometimes listed as one of the great American writers, and this book is graceful and inspired evidence of that.
John Ames, a 76-year old Congregationalist preacher in the small Iowa town of Gilead, has heart disease. He is still preaching and doing everything he can to help his church members; but he knows he doesn’t have too many months left to live. He begins to write a series of letters to his son to explain his family’s “begats”; but it turns into a self-examination of what John appreciates and regrets about his life.
We soon understand that John’s son is only 10 years old and John has had a complicated life. He seems to be thinking that he is going to write about death and history. But he can’t keep that up long; because he is more interested in the life around him.
Since the narrator is a committed Christian, the story is deeply immersed in that viewpoint. But interestingly, the book is not really “Christian” fiction; i.e., the author is not writing this book to convert anyone to Christianity. The book shows life viewed through the eyes of a narrator who happens to be a Christian, with all of the failings and virtues of many good people. I think anyone who values seeing the world through different eyes, whether a Christian or not, would get equal value from this novel.
The writing is deep, thoughtful, and beautiful. It’s a short novel but not something I could read rapidly. Every few paragraphs, I drifted off on memories of my own, as the writer stimulated parts of my brain that had been stored away.