Monday, June 13, 2005

Gilead: A Novel

Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead was awarded the National Book Critics' Circle prize and was a finalist for the Penn/Faulkner Award. Now it has won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The Associated Press reported a while back on Ms. Robinson's reaction: "This is a quiet book. . . . A lot of young writers think they have to write something sensationalistic to get noticed. I'm very pleased that this book, which is very theological in many ways, seems to be interesting to a lot of people."

James Wood, in a laudatory NYT review, explains the premise:

''Gilead'' is set in 1956 in the small town of Gilead, Iowa, and is narrated by a 76-year-old pastor named John Ames, who has recently been told he has angina pectoris and believes he is facing imminent death. In this terminal spirit, he decides to write a long letter to his 7-year-old son, the fruit of a recent marriage to a much younger woman. This novel is that letter, set down in the easy, discontinuous form of a diary, mixing long and short entries, reminiscences, moral advice and so on.

Wood writes that “'‘Gilead’ is a beautiful work—demanding, grave and lucid. . . . Robinson’s words have a spiritual force that’s very rare in contemporary fiction.”

Michael Dirda writes in the Washington Post that

Marilynne Robinson[s] new novel . . . -- let's say this right now -- is so serenely beautiful, and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it. Gilead possesses the quiet ineluctable perfection of Flaubert's "A Simple Heart" as well as the moral and emotional complexity of Robert Frost's deepest poetry. There's nothing flashy in these pages, and yet one regularly pauses to reread sentences, sometimes for their beauty, sometimes for their truth.

Dirda judges this to be an " immensely moving novel," "an equal triumph of tone and imagination," and a "spiritual journey no serious reader will want to miss."

And Chuck Colson writes:

I’ve said before that we’ve seen a long, unfortunate slump in Christian fiction—a period when many religious novelists and publishers seem to believe that quality writing just wasn’t important. But these days, there are signs everywhere that we’re emerging from that slump. There is a renewed appreciation that good literature is important, impacting the imagination and the mind as nothing else can. And the honors showered on Gilead, including the Pulitzer Prize, are conclusive proof that if writers who are Christian hold themselves to high standards, and bring true talent, wisdom, and insight to their work, the world will listen and recognize the grace that moves their work.