Eric's Reviews > Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
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's review
Oct 14, 11

bookshelves: ficciones, malick-should-film-it, westward-ho, war, historiophantasmagoria
Read in October, 2011

Most days, I didn’t enjoy reading Gilead, or look forward to resuming it—perhaps because the narrator is the character I warmed to last; but it builds to a powerful valediction—

A stranger might ask why there is a town here at all. Our own children might ask. And who could answer them? It was just a dogged little outpost in the sand hills, within striking distance of Kansas. That’s really all it was meant to be. It was a place John Brown and Jim Lane could fall back on when they needed to heal and rest. There must have been a hundred little towns like it, set up in the heat of the old urgency that is all forgotten now, and their littleness and their shabbiness, which was the measure of the courage and passion that went into the making of them, now just look ridiculous, even to the people who have lived here long enough to know better. It looks ridiculous to me. I truly suspect I never left because I was afraid I would not come back.

—a valediction that finally shows Rev. John Ames (the third?) in relation to the bitter, ferocious, and terribly interesting conflict of his father and grandfather. I hear Robinson’s latest novel, Home, is a sequel/companion to Gilead, based around Ames’ prodigal godson Jack Boughton. This fact allows me to nurse the dream that she’ll spin off from Gilead another death-shadowed testament, this time of grandfather Ames, in his senescent, Tolstoyan bolt from the unhappy home. A holy warrior spare and wiry in his "buzzard-black preacher’s clothes,” with a Greek New Testament in one hand, and a Sharps carbine in the other, Ames preached his people into a war, from which he returned maimed, to preside desolately over an impoverished congregation of widows and amputees, alongside his now-Pacifist adult son. Alternately triumphal and bitter, righteous and remorseful, a search for a sign in the ashes—what a dark howl that book could be!
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