Gilead put me in mind of Huck Finn because both have such original American voices, voices so real and human that it's impossible to believe that the narrator, John Ames, like Huck was, but the creature of another human being's imagination. Both novels make you want to hunt up grave sites because they simply had to be real.
Ms. Robinson's theology had been fairly well-established by the time Gilead came out--she may well be the most renowned Calvinist of our era, even though she isn't, by profession, a theologian. John Ames is a country parson, an Iowan, whose character is imbued by his profession of faith, even though he is--as he knows well himself and willingly admits--no saint.
I loved the novel. Or did I say that already?
But yesterday, Sunday, I thought of another reason. Gilead is an epistolary novel, a long letter written by the aging--and dying--clergyman to his son, who is still very much a boy. There's just so much his father wants to tell him, and he knows he won't be around forever so he writes a long letter to let his own son know who what he thinks needs to be said.
We're all dying, of course, so it's silly for me to say I'm not, but, as of today, I've not been stricken, like the Reverend Ames, with any terminal disease other than the usual failures of flesh we're all heir to.
Still, yesterday, Sunday, I felt like John Ames when I took my grandson, my oldest grandson, out for a walk in Oak Grove, a shady, hilly spot above the banks of the Big Sioux River. Just the two of us. In the imprints and shadows the sun leaves between the trees, I tried to show him what his grandpa thinks is pretty. I tried to tell him show him how breath-taking it is to walk along a ridge where you can see ten miles in every direction. We talked about the Indians who used to live here--and the first white folks, about sod houses and teepees. We stopped at the first white settlement, where I lifted him up so he could see in the window the old replica jail.
I'm a teacher. I know how to talk, and wanted badly to jabber, to lecture. But he's a kid, a second grader, and I could tell he didn't always want to hear the old man's rambling. I wanted to tell him stuff, wanted him to remember, wanted him to know and see and feel. Me and John Ames, we both wanted to leave a print on a kid's soul.
By the time we left he was pooped, asked me if he minded if he took a nap in the car on the half-hour ride home. But he didn't sleep, just kept asking how long it was going to be before he got home.
Me and John Ames--we tried. Maybe too hard.
But this morning, I can't help but smile about myself, an old man trying his best to pass along some wisdom and hoping that on one long walk with his grandson, he was awake, fully alive, not napping.
But then, even if he was, it was a gorgeous afternoon and what I think I may call a proper Sabbath.