On Boredom, Brevity, and Love: A Book Review of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I picked up Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson because I saw it on Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog or maybe Jen just linked to someone else’s book list. I can’t remember and I can’t find the list now. It is the type of book I wouldn’t go for ordinarily.

To quote the description on Goodreads, Gilead is “an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart.” In a “luminous” voice, the author writes “beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose” in the tradition of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson.

* Yawn *

I like plot; I like character development, and I like it snappy. This book is not plot-driven, it has only a little character development, and it’s sloooooow. (To Ms. Robinson’s credit, though, it’s only 247 pages. I admire authors who can keep things brief. I think it’s harder to write few words than many, but I digress.)

Somehow, though, I loved this book. The reason, I think (and this sounds really cheesy), is that this is a book about love: love for family, love for God, love for your enemy. The way the main character struggles with love for an enemy is particularly impressive.

This book also paints a portrait of pioneering, Midwestern, staunchly Protestant kind of folk, who fascinate me. They seem to have been hugely influential in forming America as we know it (but are they a dying breed?). As a Southern Catholic girl with some New England ancestry, though, my acquaintance with them is mainly through the Little House on the Prairie books and Prairie Home Companion.

Prairie Barn

Prairie Barn (Photo credit: zebble)

By far my favorite part of this book is the way it portrays love for a child. The protagonist writes to his son,

I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. . . . If only I had the words to tell you.


… but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.

I think if I only ever could say two things to my girls, I would just quote these words to them.

* Blows nose *

Okay, so if you’ve read all this, and you still think,

guess what? That’s exactly what I would think, too! And yet I loved this book! So you will too!

Make sense?

2 thoughts on “On Boredom, Brevity, and Love: A Book Review of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

  1. I really enjoyed this book as well but would hesitate to recommend it to others because it was slow and deep. You have to be in the mood for both to appreciate the book. Im not sure those who are not constantly reading would enjoy it.

    If you like protestant pioneering books, try Lantern in Her Hand and White Bird Flying By Bess Streeter Aldrich. She is my new fave.

    Really enjoying your dedication to blogging. A little day brightener!

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