I just finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead the other day. It took me almost two weeks to read it through. This is not my normal habit with novels of any sort, unless they be of the 7-800 page variety(which I try to avoid anyway). On the one hand this book did as much to help confirm my sense of call as any treatise on ordination and the apostolic has done. On the other hand the book has an overwhelming sense of sadness about it.
Normally this would play right up my alley as I’m a melancholic by personality. It’s no wonder that detectives such as Dalgliesh, Rebus and Morse rank among my very favourites. The added dimension in Gilead is the fact that it concerns a minister growing old and nearing death. No longer does he feel the certainty he once felt and even more he struggles to marshal his mental resources to bring them to bear on the questions he faces.
For me this was like confronting a literary version of my own father. My parents moved to Germany (transferred by the Sally Ann as they are retired officers), after I graduated from university 20 years ago. My memories of my dad at the time were of a man with a sharp mind. People sometimes ask me why I am not intimidated by high-powered academics and I say it is because I was challenged to defend my thinking by father from a very early age. In the intervening 20 years I had not seen my parents very often until last September when they moved back to Winnipeg. Now my father seems like a shell of his former self mentally, although he is still reasonably coherent and at times for me this is an almost unbearable sadness, and I think this is what I felt coming through in reading Gilead.