Twenty-three years is a long time between novels, especially when the first was a much-lauded award winner that readers embraced with cult-like devotion.
Gilead is the second novel by American author Marilynne Robinson. It is 1956, in Gilead, Iowa, and John Ames, a seventy-six year-old preacher with heart failure, is writing a letter to his young son. After losing his first wife and daughter in childbirth, he has spent almost fifty years tending his flock, more than forty of them alone, before falling in love with Lila, thirty-five years his junior, and fathering a son. Knowing he will not see him grow up, he tries to tell his son the things he will need to know in life. He tells of the relationship he had with his father and grandfather, also preachers, and of the parting in anger, never reconciled, of his father and grandfather. As he writes, his anxieties for his wife and son’s future security are voiced. When his godson and namesake John Ames Boughton (Jake), the prodigal son of his closest friend, returns to Gilead, he also worries about what danger his young family may face from this irresponsible man. Robinson skilfully and slowly builds this story that is occasionally more like a diary or stream of consciousness than a letter. The patient reader is rewarded with a beautiful ending that is bound to bring a tear to the eye. It is no surprise that this novel is the Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Orange Prize for Fiction. I look forward to “Home” which tells the associated story of the Boughtons. Uplifting.