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(Review) Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I'm amused to read book reviews where people try and explain why they did not like a book that's won book awards and has been cherished by so many other readers. They stumble over words in apology. It really is okay to not like a book that other readers have loved. It really is okay to not like a book that's won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Marilynne Robinson wrote Housekeeping in 1980. I've not read this book nor any of her other books. She has since written Home, published in 2008, and Lila, published in 2014. Robinson has written four nonfiction books: When I Was A Child I Read BooksThe Death of AdamAbsence of Mind, and Mother Country.
Publication Date: 2004.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
Genre: Fiction, epistolary.
Pages: 247.
Source: library.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Epistolary novel-written as a sequence of documents, similar to a letter. For a full definition see Wikipedia. 

Summary:
An aging pastor named John Ames has written a lengthy letter to his young son. Pastor Ames has been told by his doctor he has a weak heart. Ames is concerned about leaving the boy without having taught him about life, and about his father and family. He examines his past and present; and through the course of the novel Ames reflects on his father's life, a grandfather who'd also been a pastor, and an atheist brother. Ames writes of the history of America from the mid 1800s through to the mid 1950s. This letter is a parting gift of hope and prayer for his son.

My Thoughts:
I believe this is a book that will not work for everyone. A few items to consider before or while reading Gilead.

  • Gilead is deeply transparent, sensitive, and introspective. 
  • It is reminiscent of life itself, because the book has patterns of intense events and feelings, followed by a dry spell of everyday life that may or may not be interesting. Most of life is just an everyday ritual of the day's rhythm. If the entire book was an intense introspective dialogue the reader would be exhausted. 
  • The sentences are often long and with spare use of commas. but there is a rhythm to the pacing and sound of words. 
  • John Ames's thoughts of heaven, reflections on the past, views of life as an older person, were right on target. He reminded me a bit of my dad when he talked about life and pondered his future in heaven. 
  • Gilead is not necessarily a book you read cover to cover like in a dash. There were several times when I stopped reading and pondered the words-turning the words and feelings over in my mind.
  • Gilead is a teaching story. Living life is one long lesson. Ames shares many of those lessons. 
  • Lastly, Gilead is a thinking book. If you don't want to think and enjoy books where the focus is on entertainment, then don't read Gilead
I gave Gilead 5 stars for excellent because the book resonated with me, in particular to my sensitive and introspective side. It is a memorable book, one I will continue to think about throughout my life. Yes, there were pages where I was uninterested in Ames's daily dialogue, but I'm also uninterested in some of my daily dialogue, so I read through this section and onto other pages. 
Favorite quotes: 
The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the lights of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point. It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love.
That morning something began that felt to me as if my soul were being teased out of my body, and that's a fact. I have never told you how all that came about, how we came to be married. And I learned a great deal from the experience, believe me. It enlarged my understanding of hope, just to know that such a transformation can occur. And it has greatly sweetened my imagination of death, odd as that may sound.
The final lines in the book.
"I'll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful. I'll pray, and then I'll sleep."

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