In Gilead, the transcendent novel by Marilynn Robinson, a 76 year old man confronts his impending mortality and the sense he cannot provide for his young son after he is gone. He had not expected to meet his son's mother in the twilight of his life, not expected to have a son. If he had, he tells his son in a lengthy letter forming the substance of Robinson's novel, he might have set something by for him. Some sort of savings or investment. It pains him to think that when he is gone, all that he can leave are a few words.
As mentioned in a previous post, I set myself on the task (is that really the right word here? maybe endeavor would be better) to read as many of the 'great novels' of this young century as I could. After reading Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall-" which was also fantastic by the way - I made my way to Gilead. One of the many quietly strange things about this novel is that it's actually the second novel from Robinson. Her first - Homecomings - was published in 1981 and concerned the absences felt by a pair of sisters raised after abandonment by their mother. Pretty fraught subject matter and although I've never read the novel, it's well regarded.
"Gilead," has its tensions and its drama, but primarily, it's about beauty. The beauty that one can find in a small Iowan town one has lived in one's entire life, the beauty of the sky, and the prairie, and the fellowship with old friends, and the exquisite moments of bubbles passing beyond one's window. It's about the beauty of living a life decently and with sincerity. I do not consider myself a very religious person, but the story of this minister, his rumination on grace and relationships between fathers and sons, filled me with the sort of peace I wish I found in my own brief ecclesiastical experiments. Beauty, this novel suggests, is something unasked for but freely available for those willing to accept its blessing. Although the spirit of this novel is inherently religious, this sentiment felt as universal and welcoming as I could imagine.
This is a profoundly human novel, brave in its devotion to fulfilling the task it sets before it - to be of value. To leave something behind worth having.
I do have a new chapter ready for "Agent Shield and Spaceman," this one picking up the thread of Agent D after the tremendous strain of saving herself and her fellow agents after a fall from an airplane. Seeking guidance, she returns to the spirit lands, providing some insight into her motives and goals. Thank you for reading!