Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
This book is a letter from an aged father to his young son. The effect it has is quiet, like a sermon. The book follows the trail of the Ames Family, from grandfather to father to son to grandson. 3 of the 4 are preachers, and each has a different religious direction, for themselves and their flocks. The spirit moves each one differently.
One son to the grandfather of the story is an atheist, a source of disappointment and disbelief. But the ministerial son still feels love for his brother, despite his father’s judgment.
‘My father asked him to say grace. Edward cleared his throat and replied, “I am afraid I could not do that in good conscience, sir,” and the color drained out of my father’s face. I knew there had been letters I was not given to read, and there had been somber words between my parents. So this was the dreaded confirmations of their fears. My father said, “You have lived under this roof. You know the customs of your family. You might show some respect for them.” And Edward replied, and this was very wrong of him, “When I was a child, I thought as a child. Now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.” My father left the table, my mother sat still in her chair with tears streaming down her face, and Edward passed me the potatoes. I had no idea what was expected of me, so I took some.’
The son’s preoccupation with aging and dying can seem despondent, but it is insightful. There is hope in it.
‘I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.’
Marilynne Robinson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Gilead in 2005.