Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I finished Gilead by Marilynne Robinson...

...a few days ago, and have been pondering what to say about it. I wanted to love Gilead. I had loved Housekeeping back in college, when I read it in my very first lit class my first semester at Harvard. And of course there are the accolades, the Pulitzer, the National Book Award... when a book is as acclaimed as Gilead, it makes me try a little harder to appreciate it.

But honestly, I just didn't like Gilead very much.

The premise is interesting: a sixty-seven year old husband, father, and preacher is dying of heart failure, and he decides to write a letter/diary to his young son, so that the child will have something tangible to remember him by. So far so good. But the problem with this premise is that it's very restrictive in terms of narrative devices -- the entire book consists of the preacher's scribblings, which are sometimes lengthy, focused, and content-rich, but often short and full of the details of ordinary life. And that's fine, but in book-length, it gets a little tedious. I think that's probably why I had trouble reading more than twenty or thirty pages at a time. I just got tired of eavesdropping on an old man's thoughts, particularly since the old man in question is an earnest, well-meaning good man who is just not that interesting (at least to me). I found the religious/philosophical digressions especially hard to get through... I just wasn't interested. And I admit, many of the biblical allusions escaped me (and I didn't feel like looking them up).

On the subject of fiction as deathbed testimonial: I loved Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, mostly because I found Moon Tiger's elderly protagonist so much more interesting than Gilead's preacher.

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