Book Review: Gilead

2017 Reading Challenge: Reading for Growth

A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner

For this category, I chose Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.

Gilead, set in Gilead, Iowa, begins as a letter by John Ames, an elderly pastor, tgileado his young son to provide his son with the legacy of a father that he will not have the opportunity to know well. The story continues as this letter throughout with only breaks between subjects or writing sessions. More than just a letter of wisdom handed down to this son, Gilead becomes a journey of a life well examined as Ames is confronted with reconciling his relationship with the adult son of his best friend in the present day as he recounts his memories of the past.

This epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents) forces the reader to slow down and let the words of the good pastor work their way into your heart. Without flash and fast-paced drama, it surprised me by becoming a book I couldn’t put down.

Ames does not shy away from revealing his struggles and flaws, giving the reader a fully developed (maybe even more than fully developed) character. Gilead felt more like the memoir of an actual person than fiction and that explains my liking it so much.



What I’ve Been Up To

This is one of those “I’m here and I’m alive” kinds of posts… so, what have I been up to since I don’t appear to be blogging around these parts very much. How about some highlights, in no particular order?

  1. Thinking about writing Yeah Write posts, if not actually writing them.
  2. Checking out Yeah Write’s updated website and its fancy new badges. Can’t wait to use a new one for some actual grid entries!
  3. Planning a trip for my granddaughter’s first birthday!
  4. Knitting for the little precious one!
  5. Practicing painting pets.
  6. Contemplating getting a job, but not wanting a Job.
  7. Writing a business plan that will lead to more of a vocation than a job.
  8. Putting my novel revising, if not all the way on the back burner, not on the front burner either. See #5-7.
  9. Choosing a website builder. Planning a new facebook page.
  10. Obsessing over the state of the nation on twitter.
  11. Church stuff (deacon duties, bell ringing, being crafty)
  12. Doing some suicide prevention training.
  13. Reading and finishing books, but, ahem, behind on my reviews. (Upcoming are Gilead, She’s Come Undone and The Sugar Queen.)
  14. Decluttering (the beginning phase, which seems to involve more thinking about and less doing).
  15. Dental stuff.
  16. Sleeping better (yes, really… have a new sleep apnea oral appliance… see #15).
  17. Discovering I can listen to audiobooks from the library on my computer while I paint (what? did everyone already know that? late to the party again!)
  18. Playing Two Dots.
  19. Giving up sugar for Lent (except for wedding and birthday celebrations).
  20. Life is good.

What I’ve been up to — reading-wise and otherwise

What I have not been up to, obviously, is writing on this blog. Every week, I pledge to write at least 2 posts, and every week, I’m lucky if I manage to get even one. Yeah write? Yeah right… hasn’t really happened. But they do have this big super challenge coming up and if I just gather up the courage to register, then there’s that. Only those writings can’t be published right away. Still.

So on the otherwise front, I’ve been knitting and sewing for little Margot, and visiting her in Virginia, too. Babies are awesome in every sense of the word.

The Reading Front

I have been reading. Some from my list challenge and some not. Woohoo. I’ll make this short and and sweet.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. A children’s book published in 1943 only children can understand.

One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.

~says the fox to the Little Prince

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde, 1890. Everyone has heard of Oscar Wilde, haven’t they? According to this recent Wall Street Journal article, his literary star is rising again. This Irish playwright and writer of epigrams only published one novel and this was it. Dorian Gray exists in several versions, both censored and uncensored, with themes of beauty, decadence and duplicity. I really liked it.

The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.

~The Picture of Dorian Gray

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813. What is it about Jane Austen? Everyone loves her or so it seems. At least all women do from what I understand. She is a fine writer, and this is a good book, perhaps I just don’t know enough about her and her writing. I did read this in college, though I had forgotten. I still have my copy that has parts highlighted, and it wouldn’t have happened unless I had been in a class. This is Austen’s novel with Mr. Darcy.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

~Pride and Prejudice


The Mouse and the Rooster

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“Welcome to the Vaclav Havel Airport Prague. The local time is 5:02 pm, local temperature is 0⁰C. That’s 32⁰F for the American folks. Please stay seated until the plane has come to a stop and the seatbelt signs are off.”

Loosening my grip on the armrests, I leaned over to the woman sitting next to me and said, “Oh, so glad that’s over. Is Prague your final destination?” She glared at me and barked, “Yes!” She must be as tired as I am.

Standing in line at Passport Control, I kept reading and re-reading the letter Mark left for me. “Dear Jenny, Help! I’m at my mother’s, and things are bad.” Bad? What does he mean, bad? “Look for a tall man with dark hair. He’s a detective named Ludvik Myska. He will bring you to me. He thinks your name is Mimi Steel. The blood on this paper is not mine. Kisses.”


“Yes, that is me.  Is this all you have? I thought tall, beautiful women came with a lot of baggage.”

Running to keep up with him, I said, “Is Mark in trouble? What is happening? Are we going to his mother’s?”

Strong, silent type described Ludvik. I did not get answers. Cold and gray described Prague; and dark, since the sun goes down so early in November. We climbed into a beautiful, black Mercedes sedan.

Catching my breath, I blurted, “Who are you?”

“I am, how do you say, private eye. Marek Kohout – your husband’s real name – hired me before he went missing. Do you not know his business?”

This all sounded like crazy talk, and my nerves were already shot from the flight. It was becoming all too clear that Mark was hiding something.

Gruffly, Ludvik asked me, “Are you hungry or anything because we’ll be on the road a couple of hours. Otherwise, please shut up.”

Once we left Prague it was even darker, and the forest closed in on us like one of Grimm’s fairy tales. Jet lag had caught up, and just like that, I was out.

When the car came to a stop, I heard Ludvik whispering into his phone, and he was angry. Before I was even fully awake, he wrenched open my door and I nearly fell out of the car.

“Are we here? It looks like the middle of nowhere.”

He growled, “Shut up! This is where you get out. I cannot take you all the way to Kutna Hora. It is too dangerous. You must follow this path about 300 meters. At the end is an old hotel. Go in and they will give you a key to a room.”

He drove off, leaving me standing alone. Shaking hard, I took some deep breaths and stepped onto the path and into the forest. All I needed now was an evil witch to jump out and my nightmare would be complete.

The hotel, more like a haunted house in ruins, had seen better days. There was no sign of an innkeeper, just a key on the desk for room 31. Creepy noises echoed everywhere and then, moaning! The innkeeper lay in a pool of blood, under the desk.

“Shit! Are you ok? Oh, my God! I need to find you help!” I was leaning over this poor man, when I felt a presence behind me. Slapping his hand around my mouth, Ludvik grabbed me, dragged me to my room, and shoved me onto the bed.

He hissed, “Stupid woman! Follow instructions, and don’t put your nose where it doesn’t belong!” Thrusting an old, wrinkled piece of paper in my face, “do what is on this paper! I will be back for you in the morning.”

My hands trembled. I had to cut my hair, dye it red, and wear a dress that was in the cupboard. I hadn’t slept in 35 hours, that came first.

October’s Focus on Fiction is on noir. I’m giving both fiction and noir a try all in one go.