Unlike novels that delight in plot twists and structural play, Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Gilead” is seemingly straightforward and free of pyrotechnics. Instead, the novel takes its sweet, molasses-slow time, and in the process achieves depths of pathos and empathy rarely seen in contemporary fiction. What drives “Gilead” is the voice of its protagonist, the Rev. John Ames: his prose flexible and spare, steeped in Scripture and the writings of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. Yet Ames also has an abiding tenderness for the world; when he sees his son blowing soap bubbles, he describes one as floating “past my window, fat and wobbly and ripening toward that dragonfly blue they turn just before they burst.”
So little happens, in an outward sense, that Robinson barely divides “Gilead” into chapters. (There are two.) But events resonate so profoundly, they almost cannot be contained within the book. This is perhaps part of why Robinson has chosen to revisit certain scenes in her new novel, “Home,” this time writing from the perspective of Glory Boughton, one of “Gilead’s” minor characters. Yet this co-quel has a beauty all its own.
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