Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.
Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead. Read by Tim Jerome. New York: Macmillan Audio, 2005.
Reason read: Maine became a state in March. This is a real stretch because Gilead doesn’t take place in Maine, it isn’t about Maine in any way, even the author isn’t even from Maine. The only real connection is that the protagonist’s grandfather was born in Maine and he’s been dead for decades by the start of the book.
This is another one of those books where I feel like I am reading the wrong book. On the back cover of Gilead is praise for another Robinson book, Housekeeping.
The first thing you need to know about Gilead is that it is an epistolary novel. Reverend John Ames has lived in Gilead, Iowa for almost his entire life and is now dying. Via a letter to his young son he reminisces about his early childhood (Kansas born in 1880), his family, and his relationship with religious scripture. He calls this reminiscing his son’s “begat story” because he tells a great many stories of his own father and grandfather. And yet, as 77 year old men are bound to do, Ames wanders in his narrative. He remembers past illnesses, wars and woes and seems to be fixated on the Boughton family, especially “young” Jack.
One regret is that Robinson never reveals Ames’s son receiving or reading the letter. That would have been an interesting epilogue.
Lines I lingered over, “I believe I’ll make an experiment with candor here” (p 6), “My grandfather told her once that if you couldn’t read with cold feet there wouldn’t be a literate soul in the state of Maine (p 17), and “It is hard to make people care about old things” (p 113).
Author fact: Marilynne Robinson won a Pulitzer and a National Book Critics Circle Award for Gilead.
Book trivia: Some say Gilead is book one in a trilogy. However, Robinson’s next book, Home does not continue the story of the Ames family.
Audio book trivia: Tim Jerome’s reading of Gilead is great. I couldn’t tell you why I think this, but he has the perfect voice for it.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135). As I said before, from what I can tell the only connection to Maine is that John Ames’s grandfather was born in Maine.