After waiting until the flurry of spring semester (and the drudge of grading) wore off, I’ve finally begun Marilynne Robinson’s long-awaited, Pulitzer Prize-winning second novel. Months ago when I first bought Gilead, I was disappointed by its opening: the book didn’t “grab” me in the way that Housekeeping had. In retrospect (and in all fairness to Robinson), I don’t believe Housekeeping grabbed me immediately, either. Robinson’s prose is careful and poignant, its charms developing softly and slowly.
Gilead is well-crafted, but it doesn’t shimmer like a jewel. Instead, its beauties are simple and ordinary, like those of a well-worn quilt. The story of a dying preacher as told to his young son, Gilead captures the vision of a person who’s been on this earth long enough to recognize wonder in the simple things: a couple of rowdy men laughing, a mother blowing bubbles with her child.
It’s no wonder that passages of Robinson’s novel remind me of the plain, simple goodness of Tom Montag‘s memoir, Curlew: Home. Tom’s proud of the fact that he’s a farm boy from Iowa, and although Robinson was born and raised in Idaho, Gilead, which takes its title from an Iowa town of the same name, shows that her stint teaching at the University of Iowa has not been in vain, the prose and perspective of that state rubbing off on her in the best of ways.