Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another word on Gilead


To my surprise I discovered, on looking back through my old files, that I've never written a review of Gilead, in spite of being so deeply affected by it the first time, and very pleased to have read it again. The only time I came close to reviewing it was when I did the annual triple-brief review for the local paper, and space being what it is in those reviews, Gilead, like the other two books, got barely a 100 words. Hardly enough to do it justice.
But I'm more surprised that I didn't review it for Tui Motu, which would have been the obvious place to have written about it. Perhaps I felt it was just too big a book for me, in some ways. Not that it appears to be 'big' (like War and Peace, for instance, or one of Dickens' novels). I think it's more that the way it's written almost precludes getting ahold of it enough to try and sum it up.
The story seems very simple, yet it's a story full of stories (from the main biographical one to the puzzle of the main character, John Ames' godson to the story of the crazed old prophet of a grandfather to the strangely hilarious story of the horse that slowly sank into the tunnel under the road). The theology seems straightforwardly about grace and forgiveness, yet there are all the other elements that come into it too. Grace and forgiveness turn out to be only part of the theology; the book is almost thick with theology, but theology done in such a way that you just absorb it as you go along.
There are different slants on Christianity: Ames seems to be the most straightforward - but that's an illusion. The father seems to have been a good solid minister, but he's also a mystery. And the grandfather is John the Baptist come to life again, or Ezekiel, or one of the weird prophets out of Kings or Chronicles. He makes us realise just how hard to live with those OT prophets must have been.
Then there's the wife, who appears out of nowhere (she has no history in the book, unlike her husband, who is as much history as present), and who simply tells the man he should marry her and he does. Her Christianity is childlike, almost, and so open that even the difficult godson is honest with her.
There are almost no un-Christian characters in it; the outside secular world barely impinges. (A television makes little impact, and while a couple of the characters go to the movies, we hear nothing much about it.) This is a world where the Christian worldview is pretty much the norm. When the older brother comes home with his heretic views, he doesn't really seem to make much of a dent on the surroundings.
I'm sure I could say a lot more, could rave on about it. This is enough for the moment.
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