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Archive 08-19 GR Discussions > Gilead - discussion begins 11/15/11

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Elizabeth (Alaska) The discussion for Gilead begins on November 15.

message 2: by Kiana (new)

Kiana Davenport | 51 comments Dear Elizabeth...GILEAD is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. It was like reading the Bible. I love the humanity of the characters, the writing is superb. She is one of my favorite authors and I urge everyone to read HOUSEKEEPING that came out years before GILEAD. (It was made into a movie with Christine Lahti.)

When you read GILEAD it makes you grateful for being part of this miracle called life! I go back to it often. Thanks for this reminder. I continue to admire your taste in books. Happy reading!
Alohas from Hawaii, Kiana Davenport

Elizabeth (Alaska) I'm enjoying it so far, but if it's like reading the Bible, I probably won't like it. I did like her Housekeeping very much.

message 4: by Kiana (new)

Kiana Davenport | 51 comments Well, not really the Bible. I ment it has the depth and universality of the Bible, the way the Grandfather talks about the miracle of life.

Elizabeth (Alaska) So, what did you think of the format of the book being an ongoing letter, father to son? Did it work for you?

message 6: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2563 comments Mod
I know it was supposed to be a letter but it didn't feel like a letter to me. It felt a little cold? to be a letter. I know I'll likely be in the minority on that because I wasn't in love with this book but it just didn't work for me.

Elizabeth (Alaska) It's OK, Tera, I ended up giving it 3 stars, but I struggled to find more than 2 stars.

The letter was OK, for me, but I think I wanted it to say something else. I haven't posted my review here because I wanted to have the discussion first. My father died just before my 9th birthday, so that when I started this I was in the mode of longing for something similar from my own father.

Irene | 4035 comments It did not work as a letter for me either. It was too long to be a letter. As the man was describing his son playing with the cat, blowing bubbles, throwing a ball or reading a book as he is writing away, I wanted to shout at him, "Put down the pen and spend time with that boy. He does not need a book, he needs a father." And so much of the contents of that book did not feel like the things you would place in a legacy letter; it felt more like a memoir.

message 9: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2563 comments Mod
Totally agree. It never felt like a letter to me but more of a memoir. Infact I read this a few months ago and had to remember that it was a letter. He always felt removed and distant and I wondered if it was a generational thing but I did want him to observe less and participate more.

Elizabeth (Alaska) I didn't think the information about Jack Boughton should have been included. And, for me, that was the only part of the story worth reading. I was very sorry this book was not the Jack Boughton atory instead of the John Ames story. Might have been worth reading.

I've come to understand that her Home is the story of Robert Boughton. I don't know if it is written in the same vein, but I think I'll skip it anyway.

message 11: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Nov 17, 2011 10:26AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) So, as long as Jack Boughton was included in the story, what did you think? A mixed-marriage in the 1950s was accepted only in very small areas. Robinson seems to think it was illegal, but that was only in some states, and I do not know about Missouri.

Wikipedia: From 1913 until 1948, 30 out of the then 48 states enforced such laws and in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional so that these laws were no longer in effect in the remaining 16 states that still had them.

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I am sorry you ladies did not enjoy Gilead. Here is what I thought....

I think this is probably the most beautifully worded book (letter) that I have ever read. The messages it imparts and the joy it engenders is phenomenal. How could you not love a book written by a father to his son telling of his life, his hopes, his dreams?

John Ames, a reverend as was his father and his grandfather before him, tells of the bonds between the family as they see Kansas go through the Civil War, abolition and onwards from there holding onto their faith and belief in their fellow man. He tells of the relationships between fathers and sons with a heart full of compassion and wonder. He agonizes over his friend's son so named in his honor, but so flawed and yet so beloved by his friend, Boughton.

He tells of his love for his son's mother separated by age. He explains to his son how his love is mortal love but not different from the love of god. " If we are divinely fed with a morsel and divinely blessed with a touch, then the terrible pleasure we find in a particular face can certainly instruct us in the nature of the very grandest love." In his letter, he leaves behind a legacy of love, hope, and the desire that his son feels all that god and the earth has to offer.

Beautifully written, beautifully inspirational, it is no wonder that this book won a Pulitzer.

I just bought her book Home.

Elizabeth (Alaska) I didn't feel that love.

Irene | 4035 comments I liked the one-eyed grandfather the best. I loved his exentricities, his fiery passion, his story. I wanted to know about the paternal grandmother, this woman who could have been a wife to such a character.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Irene wrote: "I liked the one-eyed grandfather the best. I loved his exentricities, his fiery passion, his story. I wanted to know about the paternal grandmother, this woman who could have been a wife to such ..."

I agree. There was so much story that could have been told, but wasn't.

message 16: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Nov 17, 2011 10:29AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) I was also somewhat insulted that John Ames wife, who had been dirt poor, was also portrayed as not having good grammar. Where does that air of superiority by Robinson come from? I have known poor people whose grammar is superior to those who have a dollar or two.

Irene | 4035 comments I wanted more background on this second wife. Who is this woman who wanders into this little town and proposes to a man who is about 35 years her senior. This was so far outside my experience that it was close to implausible.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Now that we're having this discussion, I might have to go downgrade my points from 3 to 2. ;-)

I think the wife proposing was particularly implausible given the time period. Must have been just after the war. But that was also a time when the country was feeling especially generous. Why wasn't she befriended by any of the so-called Christians of the church?

Irene | 4035 comments I got the impression that this was a parochial small town with a cautious distrust of the outsider. The people were never out-and-out mean to her. In fact, when the good Reverend asks some of the ladies to attend baptism classes with her, they seem kind to her. They allow her to help with the cleaning of the parsonage and other feminine chores. I just think that we are seeing small town culture. But, what brings this lady to this out-of-the-way little mid-western town in the first place?

message 20: by Sandra (new)

Sandra (sandee) | 328 comments I am going to finish my some of the books I am currently reading and then give this one another try. For some reason, I just could not get that into it. I always find all of the comments so interesting :)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Irene, it's always so interesting to read what you pick up that I've glossed over. I felt that the ladies of the church were cool after the marriage, but that she wasn't ignored. I wanted them to be more - I'm not sure what word to use - when she first showed up in town. I live in such a great small town, where strangers are welcomed in any number of places, but especially churches. I guess times have changed, but I would have expected the immediate post-war time to be a bit more generous of spirit.

Irene | 4035 comments I have lived in some small town communities in the center mountains of Pennsylvania. People are close knit. They would give their last piece of bread to the next person. But, they have been so exploited by outsiders, large cole or timber companies, do-gooders who treat them as slightly below average zoo animals, etc., that they are a bit stand-offish. Once you are there long enough to show that you will not exploit them or turn their lives upside down and leave, or put dreams of a better world beyond the town into the heads of their kids which will pull their children away, or..., they will welcome you. You are known by who you belong to, whose sister or daughter or wife you are. So, I read this part of the book from that stand point. This woman comes from nowhere, belongs to no one, has no history or bacground. Her presence would have been totally incomprehensible and inherantly untrustworthy. What is this odd creature?

Elizabeth (Alaska) I think that's probably a better take on it. While I know most of the genealogy of most of the long-time residents in this town (including any divorces), we are largely people who come here in ones and twos, to be taken up and knit into the fabric of the place.

Irene | 4035 comments Elizabeth, earlier in the thread, you asked about our take on Jack's mixed racial marriage. I wonder if Robinson was trying to show the complexity of people. On one hand,Jack is a very flawed young man. He is far from honorable to the young girl he gets pregnant who appears under age. He seems to separate himself from the rest of the family. He claims to be agnostic at best. Yet, he sees beyond the barriers of racial separation that was normal in his generation. And, his father and sister, who risk so much to care for the poor girl and that grandchild, he does not trust to accept this woman just because she is not white. Does Jack understand something about the limits of the compassion and acceptance of his family that we do not know? Does he want to be the rebel and so projects this lack of acceptance onto them simply because he needs the rejection in order to maintain his self-definition? He seems to want to believe and is afraid to believe. He wants his family's affection and pushes away their embraces. Is he supposed to be an object lesson to the little boy of how we can be self defeating? I am not sure what Robinson was trying to do with that piece of the story.

Trisha I am about 60 pgs into it and I feel like it is moving very slow. Does the pace pick up?

Elizabeth (Alaska) Each of us responds to books differently. I thought it was a relatively quick read. That said, it doesn't have any real plot, so if that's what you need, you may feel something is missing.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Irene wrote: "Elizabeth, earlier in the thread, you asked about our take on Jack's mixed racial marriage. I wonder if Robinson was trying to show the complexity of people. On one hand,Jack is a very flawed you..."

I'm not neglecting you - I got busy with something else today. I have to think about these wonderful questions.

Elizabeth (Alaska) And here I am today, still not knowing what to say about Jack Boughton.

He was a wild youth and too immature to be a father and husband. I certainly don't condone his behavior, but marrying the girl was also not responsible in my opinion. He could not have provided for her either financially or emotionally.

So why does the preacher John Ames remain unforgiving? Such an unChristian attitude. He still thinks so little of Jack even at the end. In the end, Jack Boughton may be the better man.

Irene | 4035 comments Hmmm, Why do you perceive Jack to be the better man? Not sure I know what forgiveness looks like in that situation. The young girl can forgive this guy for taking advantage of her, maybe her parents can forgive him, but is there anything for Aims to forgive? Is it forgiveness or that John just can't trust or understand Jack's actions? And, doesn't forgiveness stand in a relationship with repentence? Is Jack repentant for his youth? Has he changed much? I am just not sure.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Is forgiveness a 2-way street? I never heard that before. Forgiving makes the heart rest easier regardless of what the other guy does. Ames is uneasy about Jack, and for his own sake needs to give up the hardness of his heart.

I think Jack is the better man because he has forgiven himself, learned to live with his past mistakes, accepted his own humanity, and learned to love again.

Irene | 4035 comments Elizabeth, you are right, forgiveness is not dependant on the repentance of the other. I am struggling to find the words to communicate what I want to say. I never felt that John was hard of heart or lacked forgiveness toward Jack. I know that John condemns himself, but there is a tenderness there, a desire to understand him, to find the good in him. Is John a bit superior, yes. But, I can't quite put my finger on John's reaction as unforgiving because I can't identify what he needs to forgive nor do I see his behavior toward Jack as somehow resentful (or whatever the opposite of forgiveness is).

I also did not walk away from Jack at the bus station feeling as if this man has accepted his own past, his own humanity or forgiven himself. There seemed to be something so unsettled in him, something regretting. I felt as if Jack's family wants to embrace this "Prodigal Son" and he does not want to be brought back into that fold; he pushes these people away. The only person he seems to be comfortable around is John's wife who is an outsider herself and a person who does not know him as a child. I feel a bit like we have a person who has not come to terms with his humanity, but someone who wants to walk away on who he was, where he has been and create a new identity.

Elizabeth (Alaska) You're right, forgiveness is not the correct word. Perhaps acceptance is better, although I'm not sure that is quite right either. Closer to what I mean, though.

I think he is not comfortable with his family because they cannot accept his youthful transgressions as neither does John Ames. Particularly not John Ames. Which I think is my problem in believing John Ames is such a good and loving man. The unforgiveable transgression happened when the man was 23 years old (do I remember that correctly? could he have been a bit younger?), and now is 46 years old - or another lifetime. And I think he is not happy in Iowa with his family because he knows his family will not accept the mixed marriage. This is a young man who must live up to some acceptable standard rather than be accepted for who he is. Why would he want to live among people who think he simply isn't good enough for them?

Irene | 4035 comments I could not get a good handle on whether or not Jack's family and small town community was as unaccepting of him and his youthful transgressions as he believes them to be. How much is Jack's unwillingness to allow his family to love him and how much of it is their unwillingness to love him with all his flaws? Is Jack accurately assessing the situation or is he projecting on to them the remnant of the feelings he had 25 years ago? I really am not sure.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Of course you're right, I could be reading things into it. I was going by what John Ames thought and said to his son in the letter.

Irene | 4035 comments Was Robinson trying to imply something about the relationship between John's wife and Jack? John writes of observing them together in a natural interaction and he makes this observation several times

Elizabeth (Alaska) I think Robinson was telling us they felt comfortable together, and that John Ames was uncomfortable with his observing it. He was unable to accept that after his death his wife might form a relationship with Jack Boughton.

Irene | 4035 comments That was what I thought, but it seemed odd for a letter to a young son, particularly if John is fearful that there may be a relationship between the two after his death. Why turn the boy against this guy?

Was Robinson giving us an alternative view of Christianity? Some of the things John writes felt more Unitarian than Congregationalist. Was she trying to tell the reader that, after a life lived in serving others in humility and openness to the Mystery in life, one moves away from a sectarian or doctrinal approach to God and faith? That God is really the source of all that is good in life, however any person might perceive that? That faith is a deep rooted conviction that life is worth living and humans are more good than bad, even in the face of evidence to the contrary?

Elizabeth (Alaska) I know too little about the beliefs of the individual churches within Christianity to comment. As to the rest of your comment, as I told you elsewhere, I am a non-believer. I guess I have to say in this respect that I don't buy whatever Robinson was selling on this subject.

Irene | 4035 comments I would love to hear more from those who loved this book. Were there specific passages that stood out for you? Did this book enable you to gain new insights into your life or to see things from a new perspective? In what specific ways did it inspire you or challenge you? Some have posted about general perseptions of the good ness of life or the beautiful way that the love of a father was portrayed. Could you point to particular parts of the book that was particularly effective in conveying these messages?

message 40: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Nov 21, 2011 09:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I read this book over a year ago, Irene, after having read Tinkers. I can't really remember specifics, but I felt that the writing was wonderful and poetic, and the father/son relationship to be one that touched my heart. I think Marilynne Robinson is a deeply religious person and one who finds comfort and solace in her beliefs.

I listened to this after I finished her novel and it enlightened me as to her motivation. I am sorry I can't be specific but just am offering my feelings after having spent time with this novel. Sometimes, I think, we can become too analytical and that often times pulls a book in a direction it was not meant to go in. I don't say this to offend anyone, only that this is my own personal feeling not just about Gilead, but many other books as well.

Irene | 4035 comments Marialyce, Thanks for your impressions. I love the way a book takes on different shades as you are with it for a while. I think it is a bit like sipping wine. What you get when it first hits the tongue can be so different than what lingers over time. And, I think that what remains with a person after time and other books has put distance between the text and the reader is very valuable and critical to appreciating that volume. So, thanks for chiming in, even if the details of the book are no longer at hand for you.

You talked about loving the father son relationship. Were you referring to one in particular? There are a number in this book, across the generations in John Ame's family, in the family of his best friend and even a serrogate one between John and Jack. I liked the relationship between the grandfather and John's father. I loved the commitment despite the misunderstandings and even disagreements. I thought the description of the way the two men enjoyed each other's company when they were not fighting was a wonderful depiction of how we can love those who we might not necessarily like or agree with. And, I liked the telling of the father's need to find the grave of his father, just to touch the spot, to connect.

Chris (christmax) | 223 comments I'm glad I'm not the only one who isn't overly enamoured with this book. My sister raved about it and I read it over a year ago but it doesn't work for me:(

Nancy (Colorado) I agree with Chris-just thought it was okay! Did not captivate me which I was expecting from all the hype!

message 44: by Susan (new)

Susan Kiernan-Lewis (susank-l) | 4 comments Marialyce wrote: "I am sorry you ladies did not enjoy Gilead. Here is what I thought....

I think this is probably the most beautifully worded book (letter) that I have ever read. The messages it impart..."

I have to say I recognized, intellectually, that it was beautifully written and I definitely loved her imagery, but I have to agree with others on this thread that it didn't "do it" for me, in the end. It's possible I've blunted my ability to get lost in heady prose that doesn't move forward at a quick pace. Probably the reason I've lost patience with PD James lately, too. Too much description of setting and interior dialogue--not enough plot movement.

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