Author: Marilynne Robinson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2004
Rating: 2 stars
Yesterday, I flew to the BIG Apple for work and so I had a couple of hours where there was literally nothing else to do but read. This is a good thing, because I don’t think I would have finished this book otherwise…
Marilynne Robinson’s first novel Housekeeping (1980) was flawlessly written and Gilead (2004) follows in its wake with comparably written prose. However, the plot that drove Housekeeping along was almost non-existent in Gilead. It is a book composed of letters from a dying man to his only son, explaining his life and why he made the choices that he made. As a preacher in the small town of Gilead, the protagonist constantly ruminates on theological and philosophical questions and texts.
In The Paris Review, Robinson states: “Religion is a framing mechanism. It is a language of orientation that presents itself as a series of questions. It talks about the arc of life and the quality of experience in ways that I’ve found fruitful to think about. Religion has been profoundly effective in enlarging human imagination and expression. It’s only very recently that you couldn’t see how the high arts are intimately connected to religion.”
I found the book to be a little overly theological and thought the protagonist was a bit dull. The most interesting character is the man named for him (John Ames Bougton); he screws everything up and is a doer not an observer. The biggest problem with the book is that the protagonist’s inner dialogue isn’t interesting enough to make up for the lack of plot.
Perhaps Robinson has a point that religion can enlarge human expression etc.; however, it doesn’t change the fact that the book was dry. I mean A Death in the Family was also a written in a religious framework, and I couldn’t put it down.