Friday, February 06, 2009

Review - "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson

I picked this book as my January Reading Dangerously challenge and was kind of dreading reading it because of the religious aspect presented in the story. Overcoming my dread was easy, I picked up the book and started reading and was immediately glad I did. Marilynne Robinson's words were incredible. I have no idea how she managed to genuinely depict the tone and voice of a 76 year old man but she did so very convincingly. I look forward to checking out her other novels after finishing this one.

Reverend John Ames is writing a journal to his seven year old son. His aim is to leave his son something that can be reflected and looked back upon to remember and to guide after he is gone. While Reverend Ames tried very hard to be a source of wisdom and insight, he could not help but use the journal to reflect upon his life as it comes to a close. He used his words to deal with family, loss, life, religion, questions -all the unfinished cobwebs lost in the depths of his mind. The manner in which the main character delves into each issue is astoundingly and tenderly authentic. I was moved by his sincerity and his deep desire to understand and to be honest and good. His task was not an easy one, I imagine. I loved how he was a minister and true to his faith but constantly was human and fallible. His struggle to be mortal while following the path of God was commendable. Robinson manages to keep the character humble and meaningful in light of his spirituality.

The Reverend wants his son to have imagines, explanations, and bits of him. I enjoyed every minute of his thought process as he pondered how to express himself to his child. The story was well crafted and thought provoking. I also felt this piece of work ended peacefully. As the reader, I was left wondering if his son or wife would read the journal and how it would influence their memory of him once he perished. Very thought provoking and interesting and a nice deviation from the my normal reading.

Another point that stuck with me involves the setting of the novel in the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s. The simplicity of the Reverend's life is enviable. His problems and contemplations are real but the sheer ease of his daily life where the only distraction is his thoughts is amazing to me. I often long for that kind of life where the distractions are limited and the senses are heightened. A place where one cannot escape imagination, contemplation or nature. For example, Reverend Ames describes how much pride his mother took in how white her laundry was because the women were jugged by their laundry lines. A mark of the times, yes, but still it shows how priorities and pride were hard work and effort not the latest gadget or gizmo. I found the interactions remarkable and uncomplicated. His descriptions of the times still linger in my mind.

Quotations I enjoyed:

"And Old Boughton, if he could stand up out of his chair, out of his decrepitude and crankiness and sorrow and limitation, would abandon all those handsome children of his, mild and confident as they are, and follow after that one son whom he has never known, whom he has favored as one does a wound, and he would protect him as a father cannot, and defend him with a strength he does not have, sustain him with a bounty beyond any resource he could ever dream of having. If Boughton could be himself, he would utterly pardon every transgression, past, present, and to come, whether or not it was a transgression in fact or his to pardon. He would be that extravagant. That is a thing I would love to see." Reverend Ames


"There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes not sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. so how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence? It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire. Another reason why you must be careful of your health." Reverend Ames

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