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"Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson

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"Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson is a long contemplation of growing old - this is a valediction, but more than that it is an etude on life's moral verities. I don't know what I was expecting after the shining tour de force of "Housekeeping," the previous novel of Ms. Robinson's, but I don't think I was expecting this. I wouldn't say I was disappointed because this is an impressive, thought-provoking work. It took me by surprise by its depth, and by the weight of its subject matter.
Reverend John Ames, the third in a line of Congregationalist ministers, fathers a child very late in life; he's sixty-nine years old when his son is born. "Gilead" is his series of letters to his son, and a very personal reflection on faith, family, and the interpretation of grace. The reverend comes from a place where moral actions mark and make one's life. His grandfather, the first Reverend Ames, took up the cause of John Brown and a free Kansas, and could not comprehend his son's (our protaganist's father's) reservations and judgments on that issue. This conflict clearly establishes the awe and uncertainty with which the pious encounter and consider their God.

Our Reverend Ames has experienced a dynamic and difficult relationship with his godson, the offspring of another preacher in town. His late-coming biological son embodies his second chance at the challenging and rewarding arena in which familial relationships are worked out. He is thankful for the chance at a time in his life in which he has had at least a chance to consider all the consequences and ramifications of faith and love.

This book is a lovely, understated study. It's balanced in considering human interaction, reverberant, humble, dignified, and straightforward. Do yourself a massive favor and pick it up.
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