Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

My mother gave me Gilead by Marilynne Robinson for Christmas, and I finished reading it months ago; I have since been trying to find the words to describe this beautiful, moving novel. I suppose I could reference the blurbs on the back cover from The New York Times or The Washington Post, which would result in descriptions like "demanding, grave, and lucid" or "one feels touched with grace just to read it."

While these descriptions are true, however, they almost cheapen the book itself because those kinds of blurbs are handed out like candy anymore, and this book deserves so much more than a cliched review and a final "yea or nay" recommendation.

All I can say is this: the book is beautiful. It is thoughtful and thought-inducing, and it's like taking a bath in a tub full of warm thoughts and words. It brought me to tears more than once. And with that, I'll leave you with my absolute favorite block of text from the novel:

"A great part of my work has been listening to people, in that particular intense privacy of confession, or at least unburdening, and it has been very interesting to me. Not that I thought of these conversations as if they were a contest, I don't mean that. But as you might look at a game more abstractly--where is the strength, what is the strategy? As if you had no interest in it except in seeing how well the two sides bring each other along, how much they can require of each other, how the life that is the real subject of it all is manifest in it. By 'life' I mean something like 'energy' (as the scientists use the word) or 'vitality,' and also something every different. When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the 'I' whose predicate can be 'love' or 'fear' or 'want,' and whose object can be 'someone' or 'nothing' and it won't really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around 'I' like a flame on a wick, emanating in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else. But quick, and avid, and resourceful. To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned."

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