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[304] Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

” I can’t believe we will forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting that we had lived, humanly speaking. Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life. ” [104]

Gilead does not assume any form of a linear plot although it embraces the themes of forgiveness, jealousy, love, grace, faith, fear, and resentment through reflections of Reverend John Ames, who mesmerizes with account of his life, and that of his father and grandfather. At age 76, with a failing heart, Ames is afraid he won’t see his 6-year-old son from his second marriage grow up. “The fact is, I don’t want to be old. And I certainly don’t want to be dead. I don’t want to be the tremulous coot you barely remember.” [141] In the diary meant for his son to read, he records all his thoughts and reflections, meditating on creation and existence. Terrains of his memories span almost a century, dating back to Civil War, when Ames’ grandfather had preached his people into the war, and thus begrudging his son (Ames’ father), who was a keen believer in pacifism.

I was thinking about the things that had happened here just in my lifetime—the droughts and the influenza and the Depression and three terrible wars. It seems to me now we never looked up from the trouble we had just getting by to put the obvious question, that is, to ask what it was the Lord was trying to make us understand. [233]

It was when his namesake and godson, John Ames Boughton (Jack), returns from St. Louis after a twenty-year absence that John Ames has to confront his long-simmering crises of personal resentment. Jack’s story is fully developed in Home. The revered is always predisposed to believe that Jack—the profigal son, the lost sheep—has done something terrible. His return to Gilead, Iowa has seemed to be a disruption of the peace that reigns the town, although his appearance does alleviate the grief rooted in his father’s loneliness for him.

Jack Boughton is home, to the delight of his father, my dear friend. For all I knew, he has done no harm, and for all I know, he intends no harm. And yet the mere fact of him troubles me. [186]

Most of the novel concerns with prosaic Christianity, as the reverend reads through boxes of his sermon notes and writes down his thoughts. Although the quiet prose can be trying my patience at times, the religious rambling, with frequent flourishing of beautifully contemplative sentences, provides the context of the confrontations that take place in the last third of the book. I’m glad to have read Home first because I might not have the motivation to peruse Home after finishing Gilead. Homes achieves a better balance between beautiful, lyrical writing and a sustainable plot.

247 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


2 Responses

  1. Hmm… I bought this at the library book sale for a dollar last summer, but seem to avoid it whenever choosing what to read next. Maybe I’ll just skip it and and read Home instead.

    • Gilead and Home are independent stories. What I find most interesting about Gilead is how it gives the background of the story illuminated in Home.

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