Marilynne Robinson – Gilead
Book Reviews / June 27, 2016

Small town story Gilead Marilynne Robinson, FSG, 2004 If I had to choose a vocation in literature, I would not choose that of the ‘good man’. If that is your role, you are faced with two options: 1) suffer terribly and, preferably, die (the Christ model), 2) bore the pants off your readers, normally acting as a foil to more complex characters (the Alyosha Karamazov model). Readers are very rarely saints ourselves, and we identify more readily with flawed characters. So it is a testament to Marilynne Robinson’s skill that she is able to sell us a protagonist whose struggles are, for the most part, internal and not make this read like a philosophy student’s LiveJournal. Robinson’s narrator, a pastor named John Ames, has tended his flock in Gilead, Iowa for several decades. The reader joins him as he is approaching the end of his life, struck down by an undefined illness and soon to leave behind a younger wife and an infant son. The novel takes the form of a letter to his son—really a fragmentary series of narratives—which jumps ably between the present day and Ames’s childhood and later life. The third in a line of ministers, Ames…