Alan Marchant's Reviews > Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
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Jan 04, 11

bookshelves: fiction, historical
Read in January, 2011

Marilynne Robinson has structured her novel as a diary of mini-essays on theology, written by a dying Methodist minister in a decaying prairie backwater named Gilead. The writing is lovely and lyrical - even ecstatic - but ultimately hollow.

Ostensibly, the old man, John Ames, is writing a posthumous introduction to his young son. But actually the journal entries are an unending and unresolvable dialog with himself. The theme of the book emerges slowly and methodically: it is a survey of the many ways that fathers manage to lose their children.

Robinson tries harder than many female literateurs (e.g. Willa Cather) to portray her male protagonist as such. But the effort is only partially effective. I'm left with a sense that Gilead and its families failed because its first, abolitionist generation burned up all the testosterone.
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