Last year for CBR6, I read Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and HATED IT. The writing is great, but the hoarding completely got in the way of the story for me. My friend C suggested that I give Gilead a try, so I found the audiobook at my local library. I finished it last night on a late commute home from school. I’m sure the other travelers on the interstate must have looked askance at the 30-year-old white lady weeping at her steering wheel. It’s one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve ever read/listened to.
John Ames is a 76-year-old minister, recently diagnosed with angina pectoris and close to death. He starts a journal to his seven-year-old son, to be read when he is an adult. It’s a touching love letter to his child and his wife on the surface, but a deeper narrative emerges. Rev. Ames’ namesake is his best friend’s son, John Ames Boughton, a man who wronged his family and godfather and has now returned to the town of Gilead. The story of Ames and Jack is a long and complex one, but it unfolds slowly and richly, bringing the idea of atonement or redemption to the fore.
You don’t have to be a person of faith to connect to this book, but I will say the question of faith/doubt or the vagaries of human nature and our understanding of one another really resonated with me. Ames’s discussion of his family history, his relationship with his father, brother, wife, best friend Boughton, and Jack all add to a complex picture of what it means to be human and how we reconcile our differences. I highly recommend it. It’s not a highly sentimental book, but it expresses genuine emotion and brought tears to my eyes. I’m delighted to learn that Robinson continues the saga with Home and Lila. I’ve already ordered the audiobooks from the library.