Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May Mt Laurel Book Club Meeting

The Mt Laurel Book Club met Thursday to discuss Gilead by Marilynne Robinson at the new Mt Laurel Public Library. The book was well liked by the group. We all felt like it was beautifully written in a way that evoked intense responses upon reflection. This book was described during the meeting as a soothing and peaceful read due to the writing style of the author, which earned the book the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
I personally loved the book. Many times when I read a book that has been lauded as "the book," I don't always agree. This one, however, lives up to all of the hype. This book is written in the format of a pastor writing a letter to his young son as he approaches his death. The letter is to provide his son with a connection to his past and guidance for him as he becomes a man. This letter leads the pastor to examine events in his life and provide clarity into larger life issues such as forgiveness and his vocation as a pastor. Again, I have to say this is a very beautiful book. I had an emotional response to Gilead while reading in the sense that it made me think of my grandfather and the life he led before I ever knew him. So often, I think of my family in the only context that I know them, such as mother or father. In that context, it is hard to see them as "real" people who struggle with issues of faith, career vocations and problems with their own parents or siblings. I would not call this book an "easy read" but I would recommend it to someone who is looking for depth and a sense of introspection that will linger past the last page.
From Publishers Weekly: Fans of Robinson's acclaimed debut Housekeeping (1981) 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 1956, 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." But it is in this mesmerizing account—in the form of a letter to his young son, who he imagines reading it when he is grown—that his meditations on creation and existence are fully illumined. Ames details the often harsh conditions of perishing Midwestern prairie towns, the Spanish influenza and two world wars. He relates the death of his first wife and child, and his long years alone attempting to live up to the legacy of his fiery grandfather, a man who saw visions of Christ and became a controversial figure in the Kansas abolitionist movement, and his own father's embittered pacifism. During the course of Ames's writing, he is confronted with one of his most difficult and long-simmering crises of personal resentment when John Ames Boughton (his namesake and son of his best friend) returns to his hometown, trailing with him the actions of a callous past and precarious future. In attempting to find a way to comprehend and forgive, Ames finds that he must face a final comprehension of self—as well as the worth of his life's reflections. Robinson's prose is beautiful, shimmering and precise; the revelations are subtle but never muted when they come, and the careful telling carries the breath of suspense. There is no simple redemption here; despite the meditations on faith, even readers with no religious inclinations will be captivated. Many writers try to capture life's universals of strength, struggle, joy and forgiveness—but Robinson truly succeeds in what is destined to become her second classic.

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