“Nowadays, when so many writers are acclaimed as great stylists, it’s hard to make anyone notice when you praise a writer’s prose. There is, however, something remarkable about the writing in ‘Gilead.’ It’s not just a matter of writing well, although Robinson demonstrates that talent on every page . . . . It isn’t just the care with which Robinson can relax the style to a Midwestern colloquialism: ‘But one afternoon a storm came up and a gust of wind hit the henhouse and lifted the roof right off, and hens came flying out, sucked after it, I suppose, and also just acting like hens.’ (How deceptively easy that little coda is – ‘and also just acting like hens’ – but how much it conveys.)
“Robinson’s words have a spiritual force that’s very rare in contemporary fiction – what Ames means when he refers to ‘grace as a sort of ecstatic fire that takes things down to essentials.’ . . .
“In ordinary, secular fiction, a writer who ‘takes things down to essentials’ is reducing language to increase the amount of secular meaning (or sometimes, alas, to decrease it). When Robinson reduces her language, it’s because secular meaning has exhausted itself and is being renovated by religious meaning. Robinson, who loves Melville and Emerson, cannot rid herself of the religious habit of using metaphor as a form of revelation. Ames spends much time musing on the question of what heaven will be like. Surely, he thinks, it will be a changed place, yet one in which we can still remember our life on earth: ‘In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.’ There sings a true Melvillean note.”
James Wood, “Acts of Devotion,” The New York Times, November 28, 2004.
“In those days, as I have said, I might spend most of a night reading. Then, if I woke up still in my armchair, and if the clock said four or five, I’d think how pleasant it was to walk through the streets in the dark and let myself into the church and watch dawn come in the sanctuary. I loved the sound of the latch lifting. The building had settled into itself so that when you walk down the aisle, you can hear it yielding to the burden of your weight. It’s a pleasanter sound than an echo would be, an obliging, accommodating sound. You have to be there alone to hear it. Maybe it can’t feel the weight of a child. But if it is still standing when you read this, and if you are not half a world away, sometime you might go there alone, just to see what I mean. After a while I did begin to wonder if I liked the church better with no people in it.
“I know they’re planning to pull it down. They’re waiting me out, which is kind of them.”
“In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable – which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.”