Books: Gilead

When a friend on facebook mentioned Gilead, I made a mental note of it. Then Carolyn Weber blogged about it on PressingSave.com, and I decided I definitely needed to read this book. Sometime.

But during the summer I was reading books in the Tyndale Summer Reading program. And at a used book sale, I picked up a 3-in-1 volume containing mysteries by Elizabeth Peters (whose books I have enjoyed), John D. McDonald (whose books a one-time friend had enjoyed but I had never read), and another author I’d never heard of. Then more recently, I found some books I hadn’t read before by Brandon Sanderson and Jasper Fforde. And of course there’s the book club that meets once a month at the library.

Most of that was pretty light reading. One day when I was at the library recently (I’m there every week for Toastmasters, and occasionally in between to return or pick up books), I decided I was ready to tackle some more serious books, including some on my list from reading The End of Your Life Book Club. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner was not on the shelf, but I did find Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

I enjoyed it, for the most part, though somewhere around halfway through I found myself thinking it was going on a bit long without getting much of anywhere. But it had hooked me from the beginning with the story of an aging man who knows he will not live much longer, as he writes it for a young son whom he knows he will soon leave fatherless.

To begin with, Ames is a Congregationalist minister. I grew up in a Congregationalist church, I am married to a pastor, and I have always had a great deal of interest in books and studying and (since age 14) in matters of faith. I also enjoy reading history, and Ames lived through the period when my grandparents and parents were growing up. There were few family stories handed down in our family, so it is interesting to hear those of another family – even if they’re fictional.

The story is told in a somewhat disjointed manner – just as people often do tell stories, jumping from one thing to another as they think of it. Sometimes Ames tells about his own childhood, other times of watching a friend’s children grow when his own wife and child have died, and these are interspersed with incidents of the recent past.

I knew, from what I had read about the book before reading it, that forgiveness was an important idea in the book. Family relationships (mostly between fathers and sons) are the focus of most of the stories, and more often than not these relationships have been strained, sometimes severely.

In particular, Ames struggles with his difficulty in forgiving the son of his closest friend, though exactly what this younger man did is not explained until the latter part of the book. Ames is scrupulous about admitting his own faults so his son will know his father as he really was, not the pastor on the pedestal that so many people often see.

He has no “big” sins to hide in the sense that people often think of them, such as the affairs that so often seem to pop up in the news about some religious figure or other. Rather, it is in his attitudes to people in day-to-day living – that area that most of us probably struggle with most.

And as in real life, there is no grand resolution to everything at the end. But there is some reconciliation, some sense of redemption.

I didn’t put it down at the end thinking “what a great book” as some readers do. But it is definitely a good book, well worth reading if you have time and enjoy good writing – and don’t require a lot of action or everything being resolved in the end.

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