I don’t normally read quiet historical books about aging rural preachers in Iowa writing to their young children. None of the themes — intergenerational conflicts, small-town religion and morals, racial politics, or even the landscape of Iowa — are interesting to me. But I loved Gilead.
Gilead is a very quiet book. It’s not brash, dramatic, or exciting, but it is still compelling. The narrator is exceedingly pleasant and friendly, though not ingratiating, which makes his one prejudice seem both irrational and intriguing. His insights are thoughtful without being preachy (which is a trick for a book about a preacher), and thought the epistolary / “letters to my child who can’t read them” format could be grating, Robinson succeeds at avoiding the treacly traps.
I was a little disappointed at the end; the final reveal seemed a bit anti-climactic, perhaps a little too moral and too neat, without room for moral ambiguity. But for a quiet book that does not trade or highs or lows, the ending was probably fitting.