Opening line: ‘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.’
Reverend John Ames of Gilead, Iowa has lived a long life on the prairie. This novel is a letter and a journal written for his son, a child he has been blessed with late in his life. Ames’s heart is failing; this letter is his legacy to the son he will never see grow into a man. He writes about his father and grandfather, who were both preachers in Gilead, and of his friendship with Robert Boughton, the Presbyterian preacher in Gilead, and how he met his wife. This is a novel about faith, about forgiveness, about blessing.
Reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, I kept thinking of all the people I could recommend it to or give it as a gift at Christmas or some other occasion. I’d read a paragraph and read it again, soaking in the words. This is not a book you read quickly. This is a book you savour — and I am afraid I have not savoured it enough. I found myself wishing I’d known John Ames, that, even though he is a fictional character, his wife and deacons didn’t burn all of his sermons but instead published them. I would want to read them, if they existed. That is how beautiful his thoughts are, how poignant his interpretation of theology. I have tried to find quotes to share, but as soon as I find one, I think of another, and would end up quoting most of the book.
I hope my own grandfather’s sermons have been kept. I would like to read them, someday.
Read this book. It will be ponderous and slow, but it will be worth the time spent reading it.