Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Bicameral Book Club: Prepare to be smited, Oprah.

How many novels leave you not only captivated within the first paragraph, but also moved? Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning second novel - published some 24 years after her renowned debut Housekeeping - accomplished that for me. Gilead is constructed as a series of first-person letters from 1956 written by John Ames, a 76-year old Iowa minister suffering from heart disease, for his young son who will grow up having never really known him. Neither the setting nor choice of narrator are the stuff of which edgy cult followings are made, and the premise may sound a little mawkish, but while Ames has no pretense of being a brilliant theologian, he is nonetheless a wise, mature individual whose thoughtful musings offer readers more than stock platitudes. There are careful considerations of faith prompted by encounters with Ames' scholarly, atheist brother Edward and the works of the philosopher Feuerbach that will likely prove to be crucial selling points for some non-Christian readers. Elsewhere, Ames vividly recounts family history and anecdotes for his son, such as a grueling childhood trek with his father to Kansas in search of a relative's grave, that show off Robinson's period research.

I took my time with this book and will likely read it again at some point, as its meditative pace almost reflexively demands, and certainly rewards, careful consideration. Robinson's characterization of Ames is mostly flawless, only rarely lapsing into uncharacteristically "authorly" sentence structure throughout the letters. Conflict does arise when Ames' unrelated namesake John Ames Boughton, the n'er-do-well son of a dear friend and fellow minister, returns to town after a mysterious absence, stirring feelings of bitterness and anxiety for Ames that thankfully play out in non-melodramatic fashion. Above all, the book transcends bland "life is beautiful" sentiment with its uncommon serenity and, yes, grace. It's one of those works that can almost subtly affect a person's outlook, and may come as a great relief in these relatively vulgar times (yes, this is the second post in a row that derisively references our "times." I'll be further exploring this topic in my new screenplay, "It's Codgerin' Time," which I'm hoping will be picked up for development by Richard Branson's new family channel, Virgin Kids)

1 comment:

Gina said...

Mike L. gifted me with this book, which I thought surely would become my first finished book in a long time. So relaxing, the imagery, and tone of the author that it became more of a therapy for my overtaxed mind. I do hope to finish it one day, however most of everyting is in storage at this time. Thanks for the review and memory. Nice job.