I finished Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead last week and thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was an interesting read because although all the important aspects of ‘story’ were present and perfectly acceptable, even interesting, what I found more compelling about the book was its preoccupation with what it means to be human and to love, how to find happiness and how to be a good person.

Quite unusually, I was not invested in the story per se, not the way I can be with other books. What I mean by that is that there was no real urgency to my getting through the beginning-to-end story. All the same, the experience of submerging myself beneath Robinson’s prose was something I did not want to end. The tone was reflective, meditative and very insightful. I could open the book to nearly any page and find an example worth reading aloud:

"That mention of Feuerbach and joy reminded me of something I saw early one morning a few years ago, as I was walking up to the church. There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it."

The premise of the book creates a reflective and quiet mood - it is a life’s testament, lovingly written by an older father, who has been told he doesn’t have much longer to live, as a gift for his very young son. The idea being that the son won’t benefit from the usual time spent together to absorb his father’s personality and any experiential wisdom…the father is writing to fight against that reality. And although I say the mood is quiet, there is a feeling of ‘fight’ inside of it. The 76 yr-old Reverend Ames does not want to die, does not want to leave what he considers the beauty of living. Similar to the one above, he devotes several passages to this idea - the beauty of raw existence, the beauty of health and youth, the beauty of quiet reflection.

His reflections become much more than touching letters to his son - they become a kind of meditation on humanity, on reflection, on character.

There is turmoil at the heart of the story, mostly surrounding human transgression, but I am very surprised to find how much optimism, hope and compassion floats around in the text. And it is not a simple or naive optimism. It is complicated and careful, well-thought out and candid.

This was cross-posted in two parts at: http://incurablelogophilia.wordpress.com/2007/06/25/experimental-success/


    This book is on my list, and I'm just getting ready to start it. Lovely review, which didn't spoil the story for me, either. Thanks!