Reading Gilead

I’m reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson for the book club at my college. It started a little slowly, written as it is in the meandering voice of a 76-year-old dying minister as he recalls his life in an extended letter to his young son. At first the story was confusing. The ancestral line of ministers predating the writer of the letter befuddled me. Was the narrator talking about his father or his grandfather? How did he fit in the scene? Was it in the past just a wee bit, or a generation or more, recalled by his father or his mother? But slowly the narration unfurled, and I was drawn in by the sheer beauty of the writing, the sure voice of the speaker — even in its most unsure moments. The story too intrigues me. John Ames’ best friend, Boughton — the name itself provocative. Boughton’s son, Jack Ames, the profligate namesake of the narrator. The narrator’s young wife and pre-pubescent son who seem drawn to Jack Ames in ways evocative and dangerous. And always the narrator’s yearning voice, describing each scene, explaining it, forecasting it, deconstructing it, glossing it. Always the circling back to the Bible, and outwards again to secular life.

I’ll write more when I’m finished it, or perhaps even as I’m reading. I have a stack of papers to start reading, and this afternoon am heading to my dad’s house to help him get his container gardens under control. He has finally (after more than three years!) decided I might be able to help with them without killing my mother’s beloved roses and sweetpeas.

So I’ll leave you with this:

“My advice is this — don’t look for proofs. Don’t bother with them at all. They are never sufficient to the question, and they’re always a little impertinent, I think, because they claim for God a place within our conceptual grasp” (179).

2 responses to “Reading Gilead

  1. I hope you like Gilead. It’s one of my favorite novels of all time. Marilynne Robinson writes with such grace.

  2. Amishlaw: At the beginning of the quarter a student asked me to name my favorite novel. I couldn’t do it. I started listing, and then I kept adding, “And then…. and then….” But I think now I have a novel I can hold forth as my favorite. Such grace, as you said.

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