Last night, I finally finished reading a novel that I've been slowly pecking at all summer. Specifically, I stayed up till two in the morning to finish this novel, which is far later than I can usually stay awake. Let that be a testament to the greatness of this book.
I was lent this book the day that I got back from my last day at school, at church, while meeting with my dear friends from home for the first time in several weeks. The first thing my friend did was set Gilead and Lila on the table in front of me and said "You need to read these." She knows my literary taste very well, because hers is nearly the same. She was very right. I did need to read this. The writing of Marilynne Robinson has enriched my life, and I'd like to share with you some of the things that I enjoyed about it.
This book is written from the point of view of who has become one of my favorite characters that I have ever read. John Ames, a preacher from a small town who thinks he is much older than he is. The book is his written thoughts to his young son, whom he does not believe he will be able to see grow up. The book is filled with nostalgia, hope, joy, and a beautiful sadness.
I learned of John Ames's lineage of small town, passionate preachers. His father and grandfather left a legacy of shepherding their people through drought, war, and bad theology. It's a deep and rich history.
I leaned much about the past of Ames's lifelong friend, Boughton's family. I suppose the things revealed in that family were some of the biggest character developments and plot points in the book. The is another book, a sequel to this one, that follows the Boughton family more, called Home. I hope to read that one soon.
The most that I read of in this book was Ames's thoughts as he shares his heart with his young son for after he's gone. It seemed to me that his hardest battles were of not having lived enough life, or not having lived it quicker, when he was younger. He regrets not marrying again and having children sooner after losing his first wife and child, but he does not forsake the grace of the Lord that he felt when his beloved wife first asked him to marry her. The joy of his son's birth and simple beauty of his first years of childhood are not lost on him.
There are many beautiful things, beautiful stories, woven into this book. Many unfortunate people, tragedies, and redemptions. But most of all, there are many simple, mundane things sown with the light of a dying man's view of the world. There is light seen everywhere, because John Ames chooses to believe that he is always learning, and that after all his years, he does not know everything. I just think that's a beautiful outlook on the world, for the young and the old. Everything is precious.
This was one of the best books that I've had the pleasure of reading in a very long time. I hope that John Ames's voice, the reason and wonder of it, has had enough of an impact on my heart as to change the way I see things. If I could see the world as he did, I think I'd enjoy it more.
Read this book if you can, friend. It's wonderful.