Review: Gilead

This is an astonishing novel. As I read it I kept having to pause to consider the wisdom, profundity, or beauty of a comment made. I will need to read it several times.

Author Marilynne Robinson’s gift is not only the sagacity of what she shares but the characters she has created: they are not merely believable, they simply feel real. It is narrated by a dying father who is writing to his young son, sharing wisdom for a future he will miss by moving through the present and the past. Two looming opposites are held together in this old pastor: the desolate isolation of his hometown and the eternal transcendence of his faith. The narrative arcs meander (some things happen, other things nearly happen) like great rivers, discovering and creating treasure as they roll on. This comes as both a surprise and yet also with a sense of divinely-sanctioned inevitability.

Lauding her, the critic Bryan Appleyard perceptively comments that Robinson’s work “doesn’t seem to have been written at all; the sentences seem to have been there for ever, waiting to be discovered.” His praise echoes that of many others: Gilead won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

One of the things that thrilled me as I read it was that this wonderful piece of art was the work of a Christian. It isn’t Christian literature, it is great literature written by a Christian, like One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich and The Lord of the Rings. Aspects of God’s truth are revealed in such works with compelling creativity, stirring the mind and the heart, and the soul.