I think it was a post on Scott McKnight’s blog that alerted me to the novel Gilead by Marilynn Robinson.  On the spur of the moment I check if my library had it and a few days later I was able to read it.

This is a surprising novel.  It is the reflections of a 76 year old minister John Ames, who is both the son and grandson of a minister.  It is a reflection of his life to his young son and reflection of what is going on around him as he writes the memoir.

I had to say the novel was a slow meander but wonderfully written so that it was enjoyable and not feeling like it was dragging.  Early on I expected a scandal to make the tension in the novel and it eventually appeared.

It is the writing however that makes this a fascinating novel for me.  While there are great reflections on family, ministry and reconciliation it is the small bits that make this a delight.  For example when John Ames is describing how he met his second wife and their burgeoning relationship he says:

It seemed inevitable to me that she would never come back again [to his church].  So I spent a dreadful week resigning myself to the smallness of my life, the drabness of it, and thanking the Lord that I had never made a complete fool of myself, had never held her by the hand at the door and attempted conversation, though I had rehearsed in my mind what I might say to her and had even written it out. (p205-206)

The good news is she does come backand the relationship continues.  Yet unlike many young people John Ames had not made a complete fool of himself.

There is something sparse or reserved about the writing that makes this novel come alive.  The tension to do with John Ames namesake, John Ames Broughton the son of John Ames best friend, helps move the story but also reflects again how people are people no matter what.

In the end the reflection on life, and life before God, is wonderful.  I must say that there is a balm in Gilead.

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