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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book Advent Calendar (Day 17) - "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson

It being the 17th day of my Book Advent Calendar, I should be recommending a book by an author whose surname begins with “Q” but, as I indicated on Day One, I decided to skip “Q”.  In my 3,000+ book collection, I have only one book by a Q author:  Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook.  I have not read it.

So we move on to the letter “R” and I’m suggesting Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.  It won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and was followed by Home (2008) and Lila (2014).

Day 17:  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
4 Stars
Gilead is a Biblical allusion to an ancient city east of the Jordan referred to as a refuge and the source of a healing salve.  This novel is set in Gilead, Iowa, in 1956.  John Ames, a septuagenarian minister with a young wife and child, decides to leave his son a family history.  He writes about his fire-and-brimstone abolitionist preacher grandfather and his pacifist preacher father. 

Ames’ is a spiritual diary of a country pastor, an intelligent man who seems amazed by and thankful for the blessings and limitations that have been his over his lifetime.  It’s a mixture of wry commentary on the ministerial life, heartfelt reflections on God, and passing observations on everyday events.  He discovers the sacraments in ordinary events and memories of daily life.  He meditates on the sacredness and inscrutability of faith and forgiveness. 

A major theme is father-son relationships.  The narrator discusses his father’s belated attempt to forgive and be forgiven by his father.  He wishes he were able to live to see his son into adulthood.  He sees the parable of the prodigal son reenacted by the return of his namesake, the son of a friend.

The book is not flawless.  The book is sometimes bogged down in dry, scriptural analysis, and the narrator is a truly good and virtuous man whom the reader might sometimes wish were a bit less good.

The second book in the series, Home, is also set in Gilead, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames' closest friend.  Jack, Ames’ godson and namesake, the prodigal son of his family gone for twenty years, comes home, looking for refuge and trying to make peace with a past littered with torment and trouble.

The third book in the series, Lila, is the story of Ames’ young wife.  She tries to make sense of her days of suffering that preceded the secure life she found once she married the minister.