What amounts to a life well lived? What kind of person would you be at the end of your days? It’s a question not enough us ask and more of us would do well to reflect on. We’re too busy living to reflect on whether we’re making a good job of it or not.
Gilead is the reflection of Rev John Ames, an old man writing to his young son a series of extended letters to help his son know his father and what matters.
Setting Ames in rural America in the mid 1950s was a wonderful idea, it allows the reach of the book to stretch back to the civil war but also sit on the edge of a society about to change rapidly. The world of the Rev Ames is about to disappear.
This gives Ames’ reflections both a certain gentle melancholy but also the weight of words that have been thought about, chewed on and carefully chosen. He is passing from the world and so is the world he knew. So what wisdom can he pass to his young son who he loves so much?
The book unfolds through Ames’ recollections of his family, the charismatic but slightly unhinged grandfather from the civil war, the poverty of his upbringing, the struggle to forgive the sins of a godson, the loss of a family and the surprising joy of an unexpected new family so late in life. All of this provides ample material for Ames to sift through all that he knows and decipher what counts, what might last, what has life amounted to.
Marilynne Robinson, writes beautifully and there are several heart-achingly good passages through out the book. Robinson’s chosen narrator gives her opportunity to offer some wonderful insight and artfully skewer much of the shallowness of today. It’s no surprise that it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005. Well worth a read.