Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reading: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is the story of an elderly congregationalist minister named John Ames who resides in the small town of Gilead, Iowa.  After finding he has a deadly heart condition, the Reverend decides to write a long letter to his seven year old son in hopes that it will make up for the lack of memories the boy will most likely have.  The novel revolves for the most part around John Ames, his father, and his grandfather while also tying into the prodigal son parable with a side story about a friend's son who is named after Ames.  The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005.
I came across this book because it was on the assigned reading list for my Christian literature class.  I wasn't able to finish it by class time and I never did finish reading it during the semester.  Our class had moved onto new works of fiction and I wanted to save the book to read once I had more free time on my hands.  Yes, it was that good.  I can't call the book a favorite but I have a feeling that if I read it a few more times, it will quickly become a favorite.  Gilead is one of those novels that needs to be read more than once.  I know, I know...I believe most books need to be read more than once but there are those select few that specifically NEED to be read twice or three times to understand certain sentences and character qualities.  It is riveting.

“I saw a bubble float past my window, fat and wobbly and ripening toward that dragonfly blue they turn just before they burst…Ah, this life, this world.”
The book was an excellent read.  It's main focus was about religion yet it is more so a spiritual/reflective novel than anything else.  It doesn't preach to the reader but makes general observations about the world and about God based on main character's experiences.  The language is very simplistic and naturalistic and doesn't try to be a happy-go-lucky Christian novel but a realistic novel that embraces the entire picture of the world and really tries to capture in brief glimpses who God is and what He has done and that we as humans will never completely understand Him.

“In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence.  Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable – which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live.”
There seems to be no way for the reader to not relate to the main character in some way.  He is a man Gilead mirrors this concept beautifully.
who may be a Reverend but is still just as confused about the world as the next person.  He is searching for answers.  The story in itself is just heartbreaking, knowing that this man won't get to see his son grow up and his son will soon be without a father.  And yet while it is heartbreaking it is also explicitly beautiful.  In a way, the story mirrors what the cross is.  The cross was a horrifying way to die and yet Jesus carried the it and wore the crown of thorns and hung from his hands that were nailed to the cross - God experiencing human pain and suffering.  While the story is dehumanizing, almost, and ugly, it is also wonderful because Jesus died to save us from our sins.  A cliche phrase for it would be, a beautiful disaster. 
Anyway, it is a must read for any literature geek and anyone who is interested in a rich, literary spiritual novel.  5 out of 5 stars is my rating!

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