In this letter to his young son, the dying Reverend John Ames takes stock: three divided generations of Ames preachers; his own life of service in Gilead, Iowa. He focuses complex tensions between neighbors, fathers, sons, and brothers. Through a bittersweet tale, Gilead’s micro-geography reveals a spiritual universe. For in this long-awaited novel after “Housekeeping,” Robinson repeats her favored theme: single, unexceptional story as transcendental metaphor.
The time is vaguely faraway 1956. The place is small town Midwest, where the American soul struggles to define God’s presence or absence. In this dying man’s final account, spiritual and human love combine to validate a life.
Robinson is a terrifically accomplished writer; despite unlikely plot, her exquisite use of language and her narrator’s powerful voice create momentarily convincing closure.