About the Book (from amazon.com): Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. Gilead is the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
"But I've developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books." (Page 39)
My Thoughts: Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) is a powerful story of an ailing father attempting to say goodbye to the son he will never have the opportunity to see become a man. Written in letter form from the Reverend John Ames to his seven-year-old child, the story begins in an account of past experiences that are embedded in memory although they seem insignificant when put into words. "I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle." (Page 52) The concept is simple: What would you want your child, family, friends, even strangers to know about your life when you are no longer here to represent yourself?
Gilead is an emotional read but Robinson writes so eloquently that the sadness is soothing, even hopeful. Ames begins by telling his son about his own father and grandfather, both pastors also, and their significance in the way he has always approached religion. He writes of everyday life but more importantly of his struggles along the way, having lost a wife and child in his younger years and not finding love and family again until he thought it no longer possible. "When things are taking their ordinary course, it is hard to remember what matters. There are so many things you would never think to tell anyone. And I believe they may be the things that mean the most to you, and that even your own child would have to know in order to know you well at all." (Page 102)
Ames begins to note the small things that one often takes for granted as the occurrences he will miss the most, his wife in her blue dress, dinner with his family, the changing of the seasons. As the letter develops, he begins to journal about situations in the present that leave him uneasy. He writes of his fears for his wife and son as he will no longer be living to shield and protect them from harm. The reader can sense that the writer has taken on a sense of panic as the days progress and his health declines. Finally, resolution comes but he finds that even though he can put his fears to rest, the ending is not how he would wish.
Books and words had been a part of Ames' life from the beginning and it is through the words he puts down for his son that he finds the peace he needs to accept his mortality. Gilead is a beautiful story about defining oneself throughout life and departing with grace.
Book Club Ideas: Write a letter to your child, mother, father, even friend letting them know how much they mean to you and present it to them when you are ready. Start a journal and write down your favorite childhood memories and the experiences that impacted you the most. Share an entry with your fellow book club members.