The backstory: Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2004, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2006.
The basics: As Rev. Ames nears the end of his life in the 1950's, he begins a letter to his young son because Ames realizes his son is too young to really know him. Gilead is that letter.
My thoughts: Gilead is a novel I'm been meaning to read for years. It's a character-driven, Midwestern narrative by one of our best contemporary writers. It should be a novel I love, yet I struggled to finish it and admit I was wowed by neither the story nor the writing.
Gilead seemed almost stream-of-consciousness at first. I appreciated that Robinson jumped right in: this novel is a letter from father to son; the reader's ignorance of these two characters is not the focus. As the novel progressed, more details began to be filled in, and the reader begins to understand the characters, setting and purpose. I enjoyed the first fifty pages, and I was left with more questions than answers. The premise was intriguing, and Robinson withheld enough details that made it almost mysterious.
The more I read, however, the more I grew bored. I'm typically a big fan of character portraits, but Gilead didn't provide me enough insight into Ames. I also became irked by the structure of the novel: I didn't buy it as a letter. I didn't buy it as the either the order or structure of what Ames would write to his son. Unfortunately, the narrative didn't quite work as a diary of look back on life for me. Ames never became more than a caricature for me, and without a plot, I need characters either real enough to believe in or writing amazing enough to rely on. Ultimately, this novel just didn't work for me.
Favorite passage: "You can love a bad book for its haplessness or pomposity or gall, if you have that starveling appetite for things human, which I devoutly hope you never will have."
The verdict: While there were a few gorgeous passages in this novel, the writing wasn't poetic enough throughout to make up for the lack of plot and character development. Despite enjoying the premise of this novel, the execution left me cold, and I'm struggling to understand why so many others praise Gilead.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Length: 247 pages
Publication date: November 4, 2004
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