A companion volume to Robinson’s luminous, Pulitzer-winning novel Gilead (2004).
The focus here shifts from John Ames, Gilead’s memorable protagonist, to his lifelong best friend Robert Boughton. A widowed, increasingly frail and distracted former Presbyterian minister, Boughton has eight children scattered across the country. The story unfolds after two of them come home to Gilead, Iowa: Glory, the unmarried youngest, who has resigned her teaching job so she can care for Robert; and ne’er-do-well Jack, who for 20 years has repeatedly broken his father’s indulgent heart with his irresponsible, sometimes criminal behavior and—worse—his absence. “Why did he leave? Where had he gone? Those questions had hung in the air,” Glory thinks, “while everyone tried to ignore them, had tried to act as if their own lives were of sufficient interest.” Robinson builds subtle sequences of questions and answers, hesitant attempts at bonding and sorrowful revelations articulated among the three reunited Boughtons as they edge toward, then shy away from accusation and confrontation, feeling their way toward the possibility of forgiveness and healing. This is an inordinately quiet novel, and the patience with which even its most arresting effects are calculated and achieved requires an equal patience on the reader’s part. There is, as there is in the life of every family, considerable repetition. It’s necessary, as Robinson shows us the complexity and richness of Glory’s stoical, though scarcely saintly resilience, of Jack’s arduous progression toward genuine maturity, and of their father’s seemingly naïve, in fact almost visionary forbearance. The result is a compassionate envisioning of singularity and commonality reminiscent of the most soulful and moving work of Willa Cather, William Maxwell and James Agee.
Comes astonishingly close to matching its amazing predecessor in beauty and power.