Thursday, April 07, 2005
Almost a month? For shame, for shame, especially with books to write about. But it was a wild and woolsome month, so I will do some catching up (now? Just as the weather turns warmish? I'll take what I can get.
Every review that Gilead got sounded like a book I should read--it was this drumbeat of ideas I thought I'd like to find--the kind of writing--the kind of book. And then it won the Pulitzer, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Sure signs of trouble.
Here is the opening line:
I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old.
This hints at some of the quiet pleasures of this book, but it didn't grip me--and so it was with the book. It sustains a remarkable focus on small joys--moments of pleasure--reflections on good things--in a way that is never sanctimonious or reductive. The writing is clear and strong, though not dazzling in the way The Great Fire.
But there was too much relfection and too little revelation in it for me--it accurately presented this world--inhabited it--but that was not enough for me. I don't know whether it is a question of my own ambitions for what I want a book to hold, or what I actually found in the book itself. Whichever it was, it was not enough.
Now I am arguing against the book because it has been so highly and exhaustively praised. I did enjoy it, and found, in some moments, that it really sang, like this one:
I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and see amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition comparted to what awaits us, but it is only lovlier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great, bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy I believe, and that all that has passed here will be the eopic of the universe, the balland they sing in the streets.
As I went back through and copied out my notes, I found I liked it better than I had remembered when I finised reading it--that the net impression was less than the sum of its parts.
Some irritations: the narrators dwells on the worth of the boxes of sermons in his attic and what to do with them, without ever resolving them to value or not, or really even exploring whether they have value. This felt loose.
And he claims to have spent a lifetime reading--in both spiritual and heretical texts, late into the nights (though he does explain that he feel asleep often, and got credit for reading more than he did). Still I expected there to be more of the wisdom of his reading, or its fruits, or a rejection of them. But it was simply the assertion that he had done a lot of reading. So? Good, but not great: 3 stars.
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