Gilead (Gilead, #1) by Marilynne Robinson
Fans of Robinson's acclaimed debut Housekeeping will find that the long wait has been worth it. From the first page of her second novel, the voice of Rev. John Ames mesmerizes with his account of his life—and that of his father and grandfather. Ames is 77 years old in , in failing health, with a much younger wife and six-year-old son; as a preacher in the small Iowa town where he spent his entire life, he has produced volumes and volumes of sermons and prayers, "[t]rying to say what was true. Ames details the often harsh conditions of perishing Midwestern prairie towns, the Spanish influenza and two world wars.
TO bloom only every 20 years would make, you would think, for anxious or vainglorious flowerings. But Marilynne Robinson, whose last and first novel, "Housekeeping," appeared in , seems to have the kind of sensibility that is sanguine about intermittence. It is a mind as religious as it is literary -- perhaps more religious than literary -- in which silence is itself a quality, and in which the space around words may be full of noises. A remarkable, deeply unfashionable book of essays, "The Death of Adam" , in which Robinson passionately defended John Calvin and American Puritanism, among other topics, suggested that, far from suffering writer's block, Robinson was exploring thinker's flow: she was moving at her own speed, returning repeatedly to theological questions and using the essay to hold certain goods that, for one reason or another, had not yet found domicile in fictional form. But here is a second novel, and it is no surprise to find that it is religious, somewhat essayistic and fiercely calm.
If literature is not the cure for all ills, it is at least a balm for some anxieties, an elixir for a few worries. When we were looking for a theme for our annual summer series on the books desk, every idea was overtly tied to current events. Books about Europe, elections, politics. It was both unavoidable, and something we wanted to avoid. To briefly strap on my pith helmet and take a rare step into the wild, alien world of political commentary: I think we now all agree has been a year of relentlessly bad news. But when we put the idea to you in our Reading group , you put us at ease.