By Marilynne Robinson
Congregationalist pastor John Ames has some things to get on paper before he dies in Gilead, Iowa. Having remarried at an older age (after his first wife and child died many years ago), he's concerned that his young son hear the heart of the old man rather than simply remembering an old man who liked to take naps. Gilead is the collection of those writings.
Rare is a book that makes me feel guilty when I read fast, but this is one; it is a book that astounds with the sheer beauty of the written word. It is nowhere complex or pretentious, but everywhere the beauty of grace seems to make the simplest ideas shine. It pleads gently to be read aloud, or at least at a whisper.
There is something of a plot to the book, but it's not important enough to even outline for you. Ames recounts his sons "begats" (his ancestry), his friendship with Boughton, the Presbyterian pastor in town, and does some thinking into Boughton's family. Much more, the book is about the wonder of existence, the nature of love and of the word "good" and the graces of forgiveness and joy.
From the very beginning, I found myself laughing or having to read passages to my wife, notably some good insights on why pastors have so many books. I also found myself just astounded that this wasn't real. Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005 for this book and deserved every silver stamp she got. There is no Robinson in this book, only an old pastor. It's like those rare experiences when you watch a science fiction movie and realize afterward that you never once doubted that it was all real. Nowhere in this memoir did it seem that someone else other than John Ames was writing. He's a man who's quick to forgive, honest about his own heart, a deep thinker, funny without being capricious, and a man who maintained a bright-eyed wonder at the world.
Sometimes I wish I were a better writer, just so I could somehow convince you all to buy this book. We have such a hard time finding the beauty in this life. Gilead isn't a magic pill toward that end, just a wonderful reminder. Don't read it for precise theology or solutions to philosophical queries. Buy it and read it for the beauty of God reflected in His creation, even in words. I have decided to buy a copy to add to my children's libraries; we especially pray that our daughter(s) will be beautiful women, and Gilead seems to me to be a piece of that beauty.