Books on GIF #36 — 'Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson
|Books on GIF||Mar 5, 2017|
Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.
This Sunday's book is 'Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson.
This book is hard to describe, and I have mixed feelings about it. What is it about? Well, it's about a lot of things. It's about
and it's also about American history and families and race and age and forgiveness and everyday grace.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning book is set in Gilead, Iowa, and is framed as a series of messages written from John Ames, a minister, to his young son. Ames is an old man, he's married to a much younger woman, and they have a child who's roughly 7 years old. The messages start out as a letter intended to be read by the boy long after Ames is dead and gone.
The early messages tell the story of how Ames and his father, also a preacher, set out for Kansas to find the grave of his grandfather, also a preacher, who was an eccentric man who, among other things, stole laundry and other items to give to the less fortunate. Along the journey, Ames recounts stories about his grandfather during the days of Bleeding Kansas, John Brown, abolition and the Civil War, as well as tales of his early life in the late 1800s. Then the book subtly transitions to current events, the mid-1950s, when the prodigal son of Ames' oldest friend comes back to town.
The friend's son, named Jack, creeps more and more into the messages until he's a full-fledged character who may or may not have designs on Ames' wife. The resolution of that thread was unexpected and fascinating, and I won't spoil it here.
Throughout all the messages, though, is a meditation on philosophy and religion. Even though Ames is a preacher, and there's a lot of God talk in the book, there's not a lot of
By that I mean there isn't a lot of overbearing religiosity. The religion depicted here is the kind that atheists might wish actual religious people practiced. It's the kind of religion that accepts differences, transgressions, human frailty, uncertainty, unbelief, and that the world and God are mysterious. It's the kind of religion where the Bible and German philosophy can coexist in the world, and within someone's mind, and not be completely opposed to one another. And it is also the kind of religion that, to borrow from Edie Brickell, sees sublime divinity in a smile on a dog, or in the light of the moon over a Kansas graveyard, and understands that God's grace doesn't come from the sky, but is conferred through people through kindness, forgiveness and love.*
I really wanted to like this book. I mean, not every novel makes multiple references to Ludwig Fuerbach, and the fact that this one does warmed this former philosophy major's soul. It was also important to be reminded that the Civil War wasn't all that long ago. And the writing and narrative structure are really creative and fresh. But it drags in parts, and I struggled to get through the book because often my mind wandered or I fell asleep while reading. The ending, however, is good and is almost worth the wait. My overall reaction is best captured in the GIF below.
'Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson was published in 2004 by Picador. 247 pages.
What's next?In the coming weeks I'll review 'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith, 'Crossing to Safety' by Wallace Stegner and 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman, among others.
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Thanks for reading!**
* If you want to read more about this kind of religion, check out the works of Thomas Merton or Jim Wallis.
** Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!