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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
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Showing 1-5 of 252 (next | show all)
Beautifully written, but just too slow. I couldn't get through it. ( )
  fromthecomfychair | Feb 11, 2016 |
Winner Pulitzer Prize for fiction

John Ames writes his memoir for his very young son, detailing his life and that of his father and grandfather (all ministers). His recollections are interrupted when his good friend's son (and his namesake), John Ames Boughton, returns to town. A ne'er-do-well, but with a psychopath's charms, his presence complicates things for the narrator.

This is a VERY S-L-O-W moving book, but there are passages of eloquent, glorious writing. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 11, 2016 |
I wish I had read this book ten years ago, or even five, because I know it would have meant much more to me if I had. So many beautiful thoughts are expressed by the book's narrator, especially toward the beginning, and I was enthralled for the first several chapters. It was such a cozy feeling (not hampered at all, I must say, by Tim Jerome's gorgeous voice), and I loved the idea of John Ames writing about his father and grandfather to his own son.

I lost patience with him a bit around the middle of the book, when he was so incessantly critical of Jack Boughton—who, it's true, was a spiteful child and made fairly large mistakes as a young adult—but whose primary fault seems to be that he's not religious. The book takes place in the 1950s, and the narrator was born in the 1880s, so the attitude toward atheists is not surprising; but actually, Ames is otherwise such a thoughtful and intentional character, so kind-hearted and open-minded, that I honestly have a hard time believing he wouldn't have long ago broken down that barrier that makes religious people think it's impossible for an atheist to be good. That relationship evolved in a much sweeter way than I expected it to, so I still ended the book with warm fuzzies—just, strangely, fewer than I started it with.
  mirikayla | Feb 8, 2016 |
Disguised as a series of lighthearted vignettes of small-town life, this compilation of letters from seventy-six-years-old Reverend Ames to his six-years-old son is instead a gently philosophical and cathartic reflection on the complexities of faith, history and family. The tranquil prose of the author is authentic in its distracted recollection of ongoing and past events and captures beautifully the simmering anger beneath the bygone, halcyon days.

The author's portrait of a sermonising Ames, rather than preaching at the reader, was an effective way to reveal his character. I most enjoyed the background tidbits she provides, snippets of daily life and the women of Ames' life - how his mother hid the money from his wild grandfather, the passive-aggressive extra-polite way his reverend father and reverend grandfather address each other when offended, or even just an unknown couple walking under a dewful tree, pulling at a branch to cause a localised downpour.

Since the novel is a series of letters from an old man to his son about his reverential life and those of his reverential forefathers, interspersed by wars, I was not fussed about the lack of women in prominent roles. From the little appearances they made, they were presented as strong-minded and independent - Ames' mother managed the household earnings, his first wife as a young girl tells him to mind his own business when he said she shouldn't exert her body to a skipping a million times, his current wife told him to marry her and has been bettering herself for the sake of her son.

With exception to the Jack Boughton digression, - throughout which Ames' anger, suspicions and eventual forgiveness convincingly evolved, adding complexity to his initial impression as an ultimately good man -, there is no overarching plot. Instead, the meditative nature of the prose lends itself to the higher calling of a detailed character study and philosophical monologue. Recommended for mid-twenties and up, for contemplations on mortality and forgiveness. ( )
  kitzyl | Feb 5, 2016 |
In 1950s Iowa, precisely in the windswept settlement of Gilead, Congregationalist minister John Ames is preparing to meet his Maker. Ames is 76 and his heart has been playing up. He knows that he does not have long to live, and that he will be leaving behind a young wife and a seven year old son, the unexpected blessing of his old age. So he sets out to write a long letter to this boy he will never see growing up. As Ames sifts through his memories, the story of his family (particularly his preacher father and grandfather) and the community which they served starts to take shape. Old pains and preoccupations resurface -particularly those related to the minister's godson and namesake John Ames Boughton. A troublemaker in childhood, youth and well into adulthood, is there the possibility of salvation for Boughton as well? Will God's grace ever touch him?

This is "Gilead" - part diary, part memoir; part testament, part confession. Robinson writes brilliantly - her narrator's style is perfectly pitched and utterly convincing with its continuous scriptural references and discursive theological debates underscored by very human emotions. Some scenes and metaphors such as the image of John and and his father standing on the desolate grave of John's grandfather against the backdrop of a rising moon - will stick to the mind.

At one point in the novel, Ames mentions The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos. Although the latter book is written from a Catholic viewpoint (indeed, it is considered a classic "Catholic novel") whilst Gilead reflects a "Calvinist" theology, there are surprising similarities between the two works in their conception (a first-person journal), narrators (troubled "men of the cloth" in a small community) and in their concerns (mercy, grace, sin, salvation, redemption). However, I'd say that Robinson is a cannier writer. Although hers is no plot-driven novel, she tightly controls the few narrative threads and introduces gradual revelations in such a way that she grips the interest of the reader. I'd even go as far as saying that she manages to make her novel "entertaining" - and I mean that in a good way. Both are great books - but, to use a musical analogy, it's rather like comparing the organ works of Messiaen with the more immediate pleasures of Copland's "Appalachian Spring". ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Feb 4, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 252 (next | show all)
A book about the damaged heart of America, it is part vibrant and part timeworn, a slow burn of a read with its "crepuscular" narrator, its repetitions, its careful languidity.
added by melmore | editThe Guardian, Ali Smith (Apr 15, 2005)
 
It detracts not at all, I hope, from the grave loveliness of Robinson's prose and the lucid profundity of John Ames' reflections, religious and secular, to say that the novel is suffused with emotional suspense that makes a reader's heart say, as the Rev. Ames hears his ailing one thump, "Again, again, again."
added by melmore | editSlate, Ann Hulbert (Dec 6, 2004)
 
''Gilead'' is a beautiful work -- demanding, grave and lucid -- and is, if anything, more out of time than Robinson's book of essays, suffused as it is with a Protestant bareness that sometimes recalls George Herbert (who is alluded to several times, along with John Donne) and sometimes the American religious spirit that produced Congregationalism and 19th-century Transcendentalism and those bareback religious riders Emerson, Thoreau and Melville.
added by melmore | editNew York Times, James Wood (Nov 28, 2004)
 
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Dedication
For John and Ellen Summers, my dear father and mother.
First words
I told you last night that I might be gone sometime and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old.
Quotations
It all means more than I can tell you. So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for.
But it has all been one day, that first day. Light is constant, we just turn over in it. So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning.
For me, writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone. I feel I am with you now, whatever that can mean, considering that you're only a little fellow now and when you're a man you might find these letters of no interest. Or they might never reach you for any number of reasons. Well, but how deeply I regret any sadness you have suffered and how grateful I am in anticipation of any good you have enjoyed. That is to say, I pray for you. And there's an intimacy in it. That's the truth.
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. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.
A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine.
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Book description
Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with a story about father and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage in America's heart. In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human conditions and "manages to convey the miracle of existence itself." (0-312-42440-X)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 031242440X, Paperback)

In 1981, Marilynne Robinson wrote Housekeeping, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and became a modern classic. Since then, she has written two pieces of nonfiction: Mother Country and The Death of Adam. With Gilead, we have, at last, another work of fiction. As with The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzards's return, 22 years after The Transit of Venus, it was worth the long wait. Books such as these take time, and thought, and a certain kind of genius. There are no invidious comparisons to be made. Robinson's books are unalike in every way but one: the same incisive thought and careful prose illuminate both.

The narrator, John Ames, is 76, a preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. He is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son, the blessing of his second marriage. It is a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. Robinson takes the story away from being simply the reminiscences of one man and moves it into the realm of a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith, and on the imperfectability of man.

The reason for the letter is Ames's failing health. He wants to leave an account of himself for this son who will never really know him. His greatest regret is that he hasn't much to leave them, in worldly terms. "Your mother told you I'm writing your begats, and you seemed very pleased with the idea. Well, then. What should I record for you?" In the course of the narrative, John Ames records himself, inside and out, in a meditative style. Robinson's prose asks the reader to slow down to the pace of an old man in Gilead, Iowa, in 1956. Ames writes of his father and grandfather, estranged over his grandfather's departure for Kansas to march for abolition and his father's lifelong pacifism. The tension between them, their love for each other and their inability to bridge the chasm of their beliefs is a constant source of rumination for John Ames. Fathers and sons.

The other constant in the book is Ames's friendship since childhood with "old Boughton," a Presbyterian minister. Boughton, father of many children, favors his son, named John Ames Boughton, above all others. Ames must constantly monitor his tendency to be envious of Boughton's bounteous family; his first wife died in childbirth and the baby died almost immediately after her. Jack Boughton is a ne'er-do-well, Ames knows it and strives to love him as he knows he should. Jack arrives in Gilead after a long absence, full of charm and mischief, causing Ames to wonder what influence he might have on Ames's young wife and son when Ames dies.

These are the things that Ames tells his son about: his ancestors, the nature of love and friendship, the part that faith and prayer play in every life and an awareness of one's own culpability. There is also reconciliation without resignation, self-awareness without deprecation, abundant good humor, philosophical queries--Jack asks, "'Do you ever wonder why American Christianity seems to wait for the real thinking to be done elsewhere?'"--and an ongoing sense of childlike wonder at the beauty and variety of God's world.

In Marilynne Robinson's hands, there is a balm in Gilead, as the old spiritual tells us. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:42 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

As the Reverend John Ames approaches the hour of his own death, he writes a letter to his son chronicling three previous generations of his family, a story that stretches back to the Civil War and reveals uncomfortable family secrets.

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