Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead failed to draw me in


Gilead is a fictional autobiography of a small-town reverend named John Ames. When John finds out his heart is failing, he begins to write a “never-ending letter” to his 7-year-old son, hoping to pass along stories he may not get the chance to tell. John has lived his entire life in Gilead, Iowa and has dedicated his life to the church.

Gilead’s plot jumps around as often as an old man’s thoughts, as it should, but because of this loose structure the story holds little curiosity and even less suspense.

Writing Style

My main impression of this book is that it demands attention. Every page, every sentence, even every word at times seem to hold multiple layers of meaning. I found myself re-reading paragraphs because they would strike me as a truth that needs to be understood. Like poetry. The lack of chapters and minimal page breaks also reinforces a slow reading pace.

Lack of emotion, Lack of purpose

old man in churchJohn Ames is writing this letter to his son, who will have very few memories of him without it. The gesture is romantic but this “letter” read more like a journal to me. John focuses his writings on his random thoughts, memories of his childhood, and the current events of his life. Had he been writing for the sole purpose of giving his son memories, I think the story should have focused more on their life together, the stories that John cherishes of his son, and the love and hope he has for his son. The story of how he met and fell in love with his wife is present and relevant, but most of the stories seem to me to be of very little interest to a boy trying to get to know his dead father.

The story of Jack Boughton, for example, dominates the second half of the book. I like Jack’s story because it added suspense, depth, and meaning to the novel. But I don’t buy the connection of why John would want his son to know this story. John says he is sharing Jack’s story because he “may never hear a good word about him”, but the reasoning feels to me like an editor saw the disconnect and encouraged the author to add in a reason why John’s son would care.

Knowing he would die and never have the chance to show his son how much he cared for him, the “letter” was quite unemotional. Not only because he didn’t fear death or the afterlife, but because I don’t remember him telling his son he loves him even one time. I don’t recall any father-son stories or even ramblings about how much he loved him. I don’t think its realistic for a “letter” of this nature to not contain a desperate, depressed feeling.


Although this novel is highly regarded, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, I didn’t enjoy it much. The focus was misplaced and the plot was too whimsical for my liking. I choose this book because it was on the list of Modern Books Our Kids Will Read in School, but if I was a teacher, this book would not be on my syllabus.


About Sarah JS

Aspiring writer, lover of words, book nerd, working editor, and permanent student of the world

Posted on March 30, 2015, in Book Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: