- Paperback: 247 pages
- Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (January 10, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 031242440X
- ISBN-13: 978-3812745789
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,283 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gilead: A Novel Paperback – January 10, 2006
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“At a moment in cultural history dominated by the shallow, the superficial, the quick fix, Marilynne Robinson is a miraculous anomaly: a writer who thoughtfully, carefully, and tenaciously explores some of the deepest questions confronting the human species. . . . Poignant, absorbing, lyrical...Robinson manages to convey the miracle of existence itself.” ―Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Incandescent . . . magnificent . . . [a] literary miracle.” ―Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly (A)
“Rapturous . . . astonishing . . . Gilead is an inspired work from a writer whose sensibility seems steeped in holy fire.” ―Lisa Shea, Elle
“Lyrical and meditative . . . potently contemplative.” ―Michele Orecklin, Time
“Perfect.” ―Jeremy Jackson, People(four stars)
“Major.” ―Philip Connors, Newsday
“You must read this book. . . . Altogether unlike any other work of fiction, it has sprung forth more than twenty years after Housekeeping with what I can only call amazing grace.” ―Anne Hulbert, Slate
“So serenely beautiful and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it.” ―Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“There are passages here of such profound, hard-won wisdom and spiritual insight that they make your own life seem richer. . . . Gilead [is] a quiet, deep celebration of life that you must not miss.” ―Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor
“Gilead is a refuge for readers longing for that increasingly rare work of fiction, one that explores big ideas while telling a good story. As John Ames might point out, it's a remarkable thing to consider.” ―Olivia Boler, San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Marilynne Robinson is the author of the modern classic Housekeeping--winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award--and two books of nonfiction, Mother Country (FSG, 1989) and The Death of Adam. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.
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This is not a story for the inattentive, or even for those who simply prefer a straightforward plot. Gilead's storyteller weaves back and forth between at least five different sub-plots, sometimes jumping ahead in one before telling us the meaning of the other. One almost needs to read it twice, simply to see again what he meant he made the reference to his grandfather in the first part of the story, before we had ever met his grandfather or known about his relationship with him. There is a central narrative of events that take place in the story's present, as the minister is writing, but this narrative is often sidelined by the stories of the past or general philosophical asides on Calvinist doctrine.
This may make the book sound dull or didactic, but in fact it is neither. The Calvinist doctrine comes across more as a character trait than as the author preaching at the reader, and reflect more on the self and the needs of the soul than on the nature of sin and the cosmos. And while the book is definitely slow and contemplative--even the stories of the past rarely ascend beyond a shouting match, the human drama at the heart of it makes the entire story compelling in a way that should resonate with many readers. The minister has fears, doubts, and regrets like any man, but he is also, unquestionably, a good man, looking back at his life and struggling with jealousies and resentments he knows are unjustified. He is a good man without being an idealized one; a refreshing thing in modern fiction.
Gilead is not a fiery book. It is not a fast book. It does not explode with passion or shout for your attention in the normal ways. It is wandering and thoughtful and at times conflicted. It is, in fact, most like sitting in the living room with a very old friend, talking of days that have gone by and days that are to come. It is a book for people of all ages, races, and creeds, and a book I thoroughly recommend.
Writing teachers talk about the importance of having a "major dramatic question." It's the thing the reader wants to know the answer to, that keeps him turning the pages. It could be as simple as: Does the criminal get caught? Or: Will the son reconcile with his father? This novel mostly consisted of observations and vignettes, which didn't further a narrative. There were certainly developed themes, but that's not the same as having a driving force that pushes the reader along. And the story could have been organized in such a way, if the author wanted it to be. The most obvious way of doing that would be to put the question of Why is Jack back home? more prominently in the narrative. Until the last 40 pages, it didn't even seem important to me that he was back home. Obviously, the author didn't want to structure the novel this way, preferring it to be more of a "meditation on grace and living an honorable life," I guess. That choice didn't work for me.