Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Presbyterian bean salad

"Since supper was three kinds of casserole with two kinds of fruit salad, with cake and pie for dessert, I gathered that my flock, who lambaste life's problems with food items of just this kind, had heard an alarm. There was even a bean salad, which to me looked distinctly Presbyterian, so anxiety had overspilled its denominational vessel. You'd have thought I'd died. We saved it for lunch." - the Rev John Ames, 76, recovers from a health wobble in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.

[Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, 2005. Astonishingly graceful novel in the form of an old pastor's letter to his young son, with a plot that develops so gently that I was a third of the way through before I realised there was going to be one. It ends up gripping. Its pulpit topics - death, love, redemption, forgiveness - are the obvious basis for praise, and you could extract 80 pages of good epigrams from its 280 pages. But it's the convincingness of John Ames's voice, and the solidity of his 1950s Iowa setting, which make the goodness palatable.]

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