My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book, a companion piece to Gilead, written in the equally eloquent and poetic style of Robinson's previous book, captured my heart with the complexity of the themes developed in the telling of a story of a prodigal who comes home filled with much trepidation and perhaps a bit of hope.
While I loved this book, I loved Gilead more. If one has read Gilead, and they should before they read this book, they will find that this book tells of Jack Boughton's experience while he was at home in Gilead after a long absence.
Many times, I found myself weeping as I read this book. I wept because Jack felt he never had really been a part of the family. I wept because Jack hurt so much inside that he could not accept himself or the way he had lived his life. I wept because his family's love, a love that was deep and long lasting, was not enough to hold keep him anchored in life.
I admired Jack's honest questioning of life, and faith, and of grace. I also admired his gentle nature. His sensitive nature had been hardened and broken by life, and yet he remained at his core honest and sensitive despite his behavior that others interpreted as being dishonest and reprobate. He found his solace in alcohol until it became the thing that also was destroying him and holding him in its grip. He is a complex character. One to study. One to try and understand. One in need of a grace which he found difficult to accept though he seemed to offer it to others at times.
The story, told through the third person voice of Jack's sister, Glory, lacked the dynamic first person voice used by Pastor Ames to tell the story of Gilead. At times, I wished Jack were telling his own story, but then I realized the reader probably would have missed the complexity of Jack's character if he had told his own story. Glory tried to make sense of Jack and his life and his behavior while he helped her make sense of her own life.
The themes of redemption, of grace, of loss, and of familial ties are all found in this amazing book. Jack's father, Reverend Robert Boughton, is broken by age, arthritis, and a heart that has been heavy for much of his life for his prodigal son.
He has always taught and preached on grace, yet I thought he was really unable to accept Jack for who he really was, and was unable to extend a full measure of grace to Jack. His treatment of Jack illustrates the complexity of praying for a prodigal while also accepting and understanding the prodigal who comes home. It seemed it was almost impossible for the father to actually connect to Jack for who he was and for what he wanted most in life because of the father's inability to stop projecting his own interpretation to Jack's behavior and expectations onto Jack. Reverend Boughton seems to be stuck in legalism at times, and his religion could almost be seen more as one of tradition and culture than as a belief system that is an exercise in faith based on grace.
Jack, of course, did not make it easy for his father to connect either. There was a lifetime of misunderstanding and judgement that I felt never really was fully resolved by the father and the son. Honesty had never been their style of relating.
Pastor Ames does not figure much in this story, but I still have the picture of him as Jack's true papa, the one who in the end was able to understand Jack and extend forgiveness and grace towards him. Glory also extends understanding and grace towards Jack. She seems to represent the true "glory" of the family who ministers to the prodigal while the others wish to rescue him or cause him to right his life to conform to the vision of what they want for him out of life.
Jack is an honest seeker. One wonders if his experience at home will transform him when he leaves, or if he will continue to live a shattered life.
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