Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 1/20/11

GileadGilead is told by a religious yet realistic old man writing down his story for his young son to read after he’s gone. Those who found Gilead captivating identified with the characters, laughed at the humor, and enjoyed the slow-paced and perceptive stories of John Ames.

We discussed the fizzled storyline involving Jack and Lila, John’s godson and wife. Was it a disappointing aspect of the story structure, or a revelation of the fact that the subplot told us more about John Ames’ fears than the actual feelings of Jack and Lila?

CD didn’t feel that John Ames was a convincing character and was struck by the narrow perspective of the book regarding Jack’s early indiscretion. DC enjoyed the prose, but found the story forgettable; CS skipped over the “tedious” theological reflections, but recommended the audio version of the book. AL struggled to finish Gilead, annoyed by the structure, yet found herself in tears at the end. The scene in which John blessed Jack touched many of us. JS commented on the generational conflict between the fiery, belligerent grandfather and his equally idealistic but pacifist son.

Although JS wasn’t entirely positive about the book, she read aloud from a couple of the funniest bits – the food provided to the bachelor minister by the ladies of the congregation, including the “suspiciously Presbyterian” bean salad and the unwanted yet recurring jello salad. She also pointed to a favorite passage toward the end: “It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire. Another reason why you must be careful of your health.”

CS highly recommends Robinson’s book, Home, about the same characters and place, told from a completely different perspective.

Other books and authors recommended during the conversation:

Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain

Penelope Lively

Emma Donoghue, Room