Wednesday, July 10, 2013

GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson

John Ames comes from a long line of preachers.  It's the 1950s, and he's now in his seventies, with a young wife and a very young son.  He knows that death is near, and this novel is the text of a letter that he intends for his son to read after he grows up, in order to find out who his father was.  John Ames's first wife died in childbirth, rendering John a very lonely pastor for most of his adult life.  We do get some tales of his father and grandfather, including a long and difficult quest to find the grandfather's grave, but I have to admit that I frequently got confused as to which generation was which.  The crux of the story, though, is that Ames's best friend Broughton named his son for John Ames, and that son, known as Jack, has been an embarrassment and a burden to his family his entire life.  Now Jack is back in town (Gilead, Iowa), and he also seems to be growing a little too cozy with John Ames's wife and child, and this new bond with his family makes John Ames very uncomfortable.  Should he tell his wife about Jack's many transgressions, particularly one that resulted in tragedy?  As it turns out, Jack needs John Ames's advice on a personal matter that he is reluctant to share with his own father, whose health is failing.  The son's current dilemma is completely different from his mistakes of the past, and John Ames has to reevaluate his opinion of this prodigal son whose father has forgiven him time after time.  Jack's current difficulty is one that requires understanding rather than forgiveness.  All in all, the pacing of this book was a little too slow for me, and the content was a little too introspective.  Except for the one essential conflict with Jack, nothing much happens.  I expected there to be some sort of reassessment of faith or perhaps some intrusion of doubt, particularly with the regard to the afterlife, but those types of issues don't come up.  John Ames describes himself as "the good son," and his conscience is clear, as his life draws to a close, but I'd prefer to read about a life that's a little more colorful.

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