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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
This is a book that you should get, read, and then in January of each year get it off the bookshelf and reread it.Published 8 hours ago by M. S. Caward
I loved this book. It was not as well received by my book club. The narrator told stories and depictions of common life interactions, and gave his interpretations and reactions... Read morePublished 2 days ago by BETH ARNOLD
One of the best books written in recent years by any author. It is warm, sad and sometimes funny with terrific insight and appreciation for the everyday aspects of life. Read morePublished 3 days ago by brian king
The book is a meandering sort of story that honestly didn't capture me at first. I was at least half way into the book before it captured my attention. Read morePublished 4 days ago by PQMom
You’re swaying in the breeze on your front porch swing in the twilight when the postman sets on your lap a box marked LIFE: FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE. Read morePublished 6 days ago by Jane Hoppe, author
This book is a must read - for anyone serious about contemporary literature. For anyone else, it's still a good read. The spiritual depth will still delight the most cynical.Published 8 days ago by Sally Alexander
Interesting but not as great as the board thinks, Not exciting but thought provoking.Published 18 days ago by David E. Bartlett
Beautifully written and worthy of savouring. I will be reading the other books Ms. Robinson has written and recommending her to my friends and family.Published 18 days ago by Mrs. Tucks