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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
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7,304273483 (3.9)1 / 829

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Showing 1-5 of 263 (next | show all)
In a long rambling letter, an elderly minister who married late in life and knows he will pass way soon tells his young son the story of his life. He does not do so in a very orderly manner, so it can be hard to follow in places as he weaves back and forth through time. He also shares his philosophies and opinions as he goes along. At times it is interesting, but I found it slow going and without much suspense. Our book group had varying opinions on it, some liked it better towards the end when some of his secrets finally started to come out. ( )
  debs4jc | Apr 24, 2016 |
This is a very good quiet novel. Initially it seems to be just about the pastor getting ready to die, and finding a way leave his wife and child. But the wayward son of his neighbor and fellow pastor plays the larger role in the last half of the book.
Key piece from p. 50: "Just now I was listening to a song on the radio, standing there swaying to it a little, I guess, because your mother saw me from the hallway and she said, "I could show you how to do that." She came and put her arms around me and put her head on my shoulder, and after a while she said, in the gentlest voice you could ever imagine, "Why'd you have to be so damn old?" I ask myself the same question. ( )
  jimmoz | Apr 12, 2016 |

If this were not a Pulitzer winner, I would have abandoned it. Because it is just.that.dull.

The writing is fine. Consistent (-ly dull), the voice is steady throughout.

My favorite line appears on page 202: "I have been looking through these pages, and I realize that for some time I have mainly been worrying to myself, when my intention from the beginning was to speak to you."

John Ames, small-town Iowa Reverend, 77 and dying of heart failure, begins writing to explain things to his 7-year-old son of a late second marriage.

Explain what exactly? Who his father was, what he hoped for his son, and as much family history as he can give the imagined grown up 7-year-old.

Sounds like it could be good. Only the book is mostly the old man worrying about his son, and wife, and best friend, and best friend's son who is also named John Ames. He also tries to justify how he spent 30 or 40 years between marriages basically doing nothing. Serving his small town congregation. Never leaving, even when his parents and brother left. Writing a sermon a week. He seems to realize he did nothing, only he hopes some of his sermons got through to people.

Too much religion (not surprising, given that the man is a reverend), to much worrying about things it is either too late to help or things he chooses not want to help, and I think a large tinge of regret over not really doing anything.

The best parts are when he is describing to his future adult son the things his 7-year-old self is doing. ( )
  Dreesie | Apr 12, 2016 |
Stream of thought writing makes this a difficult read in places. Well worth persevering through, it describes the simple joys of life in such vivid detail that it left me inspired and reflective. Additionally the author acts as guide through the human heart. ( )
1 vote jnmwheels | Apr 3, 2016 |
A heartfelt and touching memoir of a 77-year old Midwestern minister to his 7-year old son. He explains his family history, and the ways in which the family has struggled and prospered over the generations. I enjoyed this greatly, and cannot wait to read the other two books in the trilogy. ( )
  BooksForYears | Mar 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 263 (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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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.
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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