When the album finally came out, though, I didn't buy it right away. In fact, I didn't buy it at all, until long after I'd bought and come to like the fourth album. By this time, I still loved the band, but my admiration had become less maniacal. The fourth album I bought the day it came out.
It should be obvious why I held off on that record ("Wowee Zowee"): I didn't want to be disappointed. I didn't want my perfect love affair with the band to change. As it happens, when I finally did get it, I was kind of disappointed (though I like it fine now), and perhaps that experience served as the template for my non-reading of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. Her first novel in more than 20 years, Gilead followed one of my favorite books ever, the pretty much perfect Housekeeping, and because it could not possibly be as good as that book, I didn't read it. Simple.
Now, however, I'm going to go blow the dust off it and get to work. I just read "Jack," an excerpt from Robinson's forthcoming third novel, in the new Harper's, and it is excellent. It takes place in the same town as the last book (the town is called Gilead) and its characters appear to be tangential to the Gilead ones. A woman, Glory, is the youngest of seven siblings, and comes home to care for her ailing father, a gentle widower. She is leaving behind a relationship that has not quite managed to become a marriage. After a few weeks back home, a letter arrives from her ne'er-do-well brother, Jack; he's coming to visit for the first time in 20 years. Then he shows up. End of story.
Sound exciting? No, it doesn't. It is exciting to read, though. "Jack" does what Robinson is so good at--it describes, in lavish detail, incredibly subtle emotions. Here, Glory has been considering her youthful innocence, and then turns her attention to her parents:
Her parents were, in their way, fully as innocent as she was, having put aside their innocence on practical grounds, not in the belief that it had been discredited but because they accepted the terms of life in this world as a treaty to be preferred to conflict, though by no means ideal in itself. Experience had taught them that truth had sharp edges and hard corners, and could be seriously at odds with kindness.
It's all very old-fashioned and quite gripping at the same time.
If I'm going to be totally honest, there was another reason I skipped Gilead, and that's that it was a book about, in part, religion. I am not antireligious, but I am certainly irreligious, and, like a lot of even the most devout people, I had, by the time Gilead came out in 2004, gotten very weary of the sanctimonious triteness that had come to characterize popular religious expression; and frankly the last thing I wanted to do was read about anybody's "faith."
But I ought to have had a bit of faith in Robinson. She obviously has still got it going on, and presumably she did back in 2004, when my disappointment in my fellow man had reached its nadir. This week I'll try to make up for lost time.