Saturday, March 9, 2019

#8 [2019/CBR11] "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson

I haven't given up on my list of 50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40, although I've come close in the past couple of weeks. The latest book I picked up was the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Gilead (2004) by Marilynne Robinson. This was a relatively short novel about an old Congregationalist minister, John Ames, near the end of his life. It primarily focuses on Ames's perspective of life, as well as relationships between fathers and sons. It's obviously thoughtful and well written, which I appreciated. Some of the writing is just beautiful, feeling more like poetry than a novel. However, the novel was a little slow for my current frame of mind. Also, as much as I enjoyed reading about the characters and their relationships, whenever Ames pontificated too long on religion, I got bored and antsy.

The book begins when John Ames is in his seventies. His doctor has told him that something is wrong with his heart and he doesn't have long to live. He has a much younger wife and a seven-year-old son that he knows he will soon leave alone. As the book continues, we learn that Ames married his high school sweetheart, but she died during childbirth. He was alone for many years until his future wife appears one day at his church. We don't learn much about her, but she seems to have come from hardship.

The primary focus of the book, however, is father/son relationships. There is the relationship between Ames and his own son. There is the relationship between Ames and his father, another minister. There also was Ames's brother, who became an atheist and left the small community of Gilead. In addition, Ames's father and grandfather had a very fractious relationship based on a fundamental disagreement regarding the use of violence against slavery before the Civil War.

One of Ames's closest and only friends throughout his rather lonely life was a Presbyterian minister, Boughton. Boughton also had a son and a troubled relationship with him. This son was named after Ames, and Ames has struggled with his feelings toward the boy as the boy grew up and made some really terrible decisions.

Much of this book is Ames thinking about life, his father, his son, his friend, and religion. Although I sometimes liked Ames's perspective and philosophy of life, I did not enjoy when his thoughts became bogged down on his specific religion. I could have done with less of that.

I was fascinated by Ames's new wife. Although there is some description of how the two met, I wanted to know more. It came across that she was relatively uneducated. She must have had a hard life if marrying a poor minister, at least thirty years older, in the middle of nowhere was a good option. I think her story would have been fascinating, but we know very little about her. Boughton's son was also an interesting character, and Robinson's next book apparently focuses on him. He is a troubled soul, leaving heartache and pain wherever he goes.

On the whole, there were many good things about this book. Even though it was not exactly what I was looking for in the moment, I appreciate the different layers and relationships in Ames's life. Ames was a thoughtful, earnest, and likable man, struggling with important issues. I can see someone with a little more patience and religion loving this book.

"We fly forgotten as a dream, certainly, leaving the forgetful world behind us to trample and mar and misplace everything we have ever cared for." (191)

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