Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is a fictional memoir written by an aging father to his young son. It often reads like a journal being kept for the boy; sometimes it is a book where the father, Reverend John Ames, writes down things he remembers about being a boy or happenings in the small town of Gilead, Iowa.

Reviewing this book is a puzzle for me, because I liked parts of it, but I wasn’t captivated by the book overall. Gilead is rather episodic, almost randomly focusing on small parts of John Ames’s life that he feels should be told to his son. Many of these short stories about Rev. Ames’s childhood or early adulthood were rather poignant and left me thinking about my own life and whether I’ve stopped to enjoy the right things. Reading many of Ames’s fictional religious experiences was nearly a spiritual experience for me, the reader.

At the same time, there were many points where Ames’s voice (the only voice in this autobiography) changed suddenly; as he remembered a sermon or recalled a conversation had with Boughton, his old friend, neighbor, and fellow reverend. The voice changed from calm, quiet, almost wistful reflection, to lofty, condescending, and opaque philosophizing.

Overall, the book was not life-changing, and will give me little to talk about.

Still, if you just want to read a pretty-well-written story about a person who feels real, maybe sharing some of the same concerns or worries that you have—if you just like fiction and enjoy looking for symbolism (because what’s a Pulitzer Prize novel without symbolism), then Gilead might be your cup of tea. If you prefer action, adventure, or mystery, then you might want to avoid this one.

3/5 stars. Would recommend to those who enjoy general fiction and memoirs.

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