Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review of the Day: Gilead

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer-winning novel, is surprisingly entertaining for an epistolary novel consisting of only one, long letter from a 77-year-old minister to his seven-year-old son. Certainly letters from dead, Midwestern pastors are not the typical stuff of contemporary novels. But Robinson makes it work.

In his letter, the father writes about his own youth and his relationship with his father, his scallywag of a grandfather, his best friend and that man's ne'er-do-well son, the history of his Iowa town as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, and his two marriages. Throughout, he ties in the themes of grace, forgiveness, and man's fallibility.

Particularly striking were the narrator's discussions on how much he enjoyed his life. He writes the letter to his young son knowing that he will not be around when his son is an adult. But, although he is approaching death and anticipating his heavenly afterlife, he makes it clear that he appreciated the temporal pleasures of his life -- the beauty of the prairie, his books and education, falling in love, baseball, and his town. His reminiscences and the lessons he imparts to his son are elegant and timeless. Gilead is a beautiful story.



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