I’d never heard of this book, but my well read friend sent it for Christmas and I was intrigued. I went into the book with no background information and was pleasantly surprised. Gilead is the name of a town in Iowa where Congregationalist minister, John Ames, is preparing to die. He’s lived a long life and is writing down thoughts that he might have shared with his young son had he lived long enough to see him grow. At first I was confused at the writing style and assumed that we’d be jumping to a more traditional story telling format. Not so. The first person style continues and demands that the reader pay attention to every word.
Robinson is a very talented writer. Her words evoke images that seem honest and real. As Ames narrates various scenes from his own life, the reader begins to understand him, to sympathize with him. Ames does not try to hide is weaknesses, or his jealousy, or his vanity. Nor does he overplay his faults in some sort of reverse humility. He comes from a line of church men. His grandfather was a preacher during the wild days of the civil war. His own father was a more peaceful sort of preacher. John married young and his first wife died in childbirth with his child dying shortly afterwards. Then late in life he has been given a sort of second chance. Lila walks into his congregation and Ames begins a second family. During his narrative Ames’ best friend’s son returns to town. John Ames Boughton has a checkered past, and perhaps not the most honorable of intentions, and he makes Ames feel very uneasy.
Gilead reads much like poetry. Earlier last year, I was diagnosed with Placenta Previa during my third pregnancy. Though we live in an age of great medical advancements, it is still a dangerous condition. I thought quite a lot this last year what I would want my children to know if I did not live to tell them those things in person. Perhaps that factored into my enjoyment of this book, but either way, Robinson creates characters that you care about. In the end, John Ames words show what kind of a man he is, and the journey is one I am glad I took.