Ames’s calm, grave diary entries contain almost no dialogue, shun scenes, seem to smother conflict before it has taken a breath.
Very beautifully, “Gilead” becomes less a novel than a species of religious writing, and Ames’s entries a recognizable American form, the Emersonian essay, poised between homily and home, religious exercise and naturalism: This morning a splendid dawn passed over our house on its way to Kansas. So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning.
He is also a bit boring, and boring in proportion to his curious lack of ego.
At home in the Iowa town of Gilead, in the mid-nineteen-fifties, and aware of his imminent demise, he writes a long letter to his seven-year-old son, which is presented as a series of diary entries.
Such attention as we give to it is usually vindictive and incurious and therefore incompetent.” We flinch from Puritanism because it placed sin at the center of life, but then, as she tartly reminds us, “Americans never think of themselves as sharing fully in the human condition, and therefore beset as all humankind is beset.” Calvin believed in our “total depravity,” our utter fallenness, but this was not necessarily a cruel condemnation.
“The belief that we are all sinners gives us excellent grounds for forgiveness and self-forgiveness, and is kindlier than any expectation that we might be saints, even while it affirms the standards all of us fail to attain,” Robinson writes in her essay “Puritans and Prigs.” Nowadays, she argues, educated Americans are prigs, not Puritans, quick to pour judgment on anyone who fails to toe the right political line.The priests I knew practiced self-abnegation but had perfected a quiet dance of ego.They were modest but pompous, gentle but tyrannical (one of them got angry if he was disturbed on a Monday, the vicar’s day off), pious but knowing.Another reason is that fiction needs egotism, vanity, venality, in order to produce drama and comedy; we want our sepulchres craftily whited.The seventy-six-year-old Reverend John Ames, who narrates Marilynne Robinson’s second novel, “Gilead,” is gentle, modest, loving, and above all good.The funereal uniform is supposed to obliterate the self in a shroud of colorlessness, even as it draws enormous attention to the self; humility seems to be cut from the same cloth as pride.Since the ego is irrepressible—and secular—it tends to bulge in odd shapes when religiously straitened.Along the way, he learns a thing or two about himself......up in a religious household, I got used to the sight of priests, but I always found them at once fascinating and slightly repellent.—Recommended by Jeff, City Lights In Echo Park, a neighborhood at the wrong end of Sunset Boulevard, Joe, a cool cynic, lives marginally. Richard Lafargue, a well-known plastic surgeon, pursues and captures Vincent Moreau, who raped Lafargue's daughter and left her hopelessly mad in an asylum. This is the darkest of dark noirs, in the tradition of Jim Thompson, and the last novel Manchette would publish before his early death.Ironically, he finds himself becoming more involved than he'd planned in the lives of his clients, linked to their dreams and to their despair... Every word Manchette wrote is worth your time, much as those of one of his predecessors in French minimalism, Georges Bernanos, is.