Friday, April 29, 2005

Choose 3 With Leora Skolkin-Smith

Today inaugurates a new feature called "Choose 3" in which I submit several questions to a writer or other person of interest and invite them to choose the three that speak to them most.
My first interview is with Leora Skolkin-Smith, the author of 'Edges' which is scheduled to be released next month by Glad Day Books.

"Edges" is set in a pre-1967 Israel, during the Cold War. Liana Bialik is fourteen years old when the suicide of her American father forces her family to return to her mother’s native Jerusalem. A chance meeting with a runaway American diplomat's son in the forest draws Liana into an odyssey of borders, loss, and love. After witnessing the accidental death of a young Arab boy caught in a crossfire between snipers, Liana is impelled to confront her conflicts about identity and culpability. She must choose between following the paths of darkness that have kept her bound to her grieving and engulfing mother and her own sexual self-discovery .

Characters are drawn from Israel’s long-forgotten past, members of the 1940’s Haganah and Jewish underground who find themselves displaced amidst the chaotic and complex tensions of an Israel just beginning to modernize and expand. Liana learns about her mother's childhood in the ancient city, and her past in the wars.

Places and dates eventually yield to timeless truths as she is able to use this heritage as her own mystical starting point. Growing into a womanhood forever formed by the boundary-less spaces of a lost geography and people, Liana’s coming of age brings this tumultuous region into startling light and relief.

This is Leora Skolkin-Smith's first novel. A Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of a P.E.N. American Center grant, she has been published in "Persea: An International Review" an anthology published by Persea Books, "The Sarah Lawrence Review", and has a short piece forthcoming in "Fiction" Magazine.

Visit her website: http//

P.F.: The Marvelous Garden frequently concerns itself with aspects of faith, both negative and positive. It seems that 'Edges' also addresses those issues. Can you say a little bit about how faith serves as the source of personal strength and identity, as well as a source of division and strife in the novel?

L.S-S.: The question of "Faith" is an interesting one for me, as the daughter of a mother who was born in the old city of Jerusalem. Clearly, the ancient stones formed my mother and later, me, but in a very different way than most people would expect. When my mother was a little girl in Jerusalem, the quarters of the old city were inhabited by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Only very radical extremists disturbed the balanced and mutually respectful life between these communities. I was not allowed to ever speak ill of any Muslim or Arab. I would be punished for doing so, religious intolerance was a great evil in my grandmother's home. And when the Zionists first came to Jerusalem, she was known for throwing pots of boiling water at their marching feet and trying to shoo them away. So my novel is about a different kind of faith. One that takes the reader back to this peaceful time, to the friendships between Arab and Jews and my faith comes from a Kaballah theology, not a Zionist or orthodox Jewish one. That the world is a mysterious, unseen fabric of fatalisms but--most importantly, we all belong to the ancient city. I felt very erased and was sure my feelings were shared, and that these were human feelings, not religious ones. So "Faith" to me is not a religious faith is the strictest sense. It's a kind of continuity of souls.

P.F:I'm interesting in learning more about how 'Edges' was chosen as the first work of fiction to be published by Glad Day Books. Obviously, something in the novel broke through a barrier that the house had previously set for itself. Was it perceived as a political
novel? Or did Grace Paley's recognition and love for good fiction prevail?

L.S-S.: Well, actually, Grace published a novel before mine and a collection of short stories. But, truthfully, I don't write political fiction, I never intended "Edges" to be at all political. It's just set in a region that is constantly aflame with politics. Recently, Amos Elon's daughter made a documentary film about Palestine, as an Israeli of course, and she ended up with a similar story. A search for identity based on personal relationships, a de-politicalization of this region and its people. If anything, Grace mainly responded to this impulse in my work. That it was about a family, about sexual awakenings, about people who just happened to find themselves thrown into the cauldron of Middle Eastern political wars. So, no, she didn't chose it at all for political reasons.

P.F.:I'm always fascinated with the question of where a writer sees herself in her work. Was there one character with whom you strongly identified, one who may not have shared any concrete details of your life, but whose odyssey somehow parallels your own?

L.S-S.: None of the actual events in the novel ever happened to me. They are pure invention. But the odyssey, the psychological geography and, equally, the actual geography was all part of my life. I hesitated for a very long time to write anything about Israel and then one day I just got mad. I got furious, in fact, because in the news the places I lived as a child, the places my grandmother and mother lived, were being so distorted--exploited this way or that for this or that political opinion and for me, writing this was a journey to regain my emotional equilibirium in the face of these daily assaults on truth. It seemed everyone suddenly was dictating to me who I was and where I was from and I had to find my selfhood again, I was driven to by a feeling of being absolutely trampled. In this way, I felt very much like the Palestinians, having their houses demolished, being spoken to as if they had no real claim on their birthplace. In other ways, I felt like the Israelis--equally being trampled by new immigrants who demanded so much of them, and yet hardly stopped to consider what the cost was. I was really pissed off. So if rage counts, I guess that's what made me finally write "Edges", I wanted to show how marginalized the original Jewish pioneers and the Palestinians were becoming in the world's heat. But also, I was of course driven by trying to resolve my own relationship with such a charismatic and confusing mother--what she had gone through was important to me at this stage in my life. I wanted to understand her. And I knew she had been in the original Israeli underground, carried bullets in her underwear, had a gun slung over her shoulder at the age of 14. Perhaps, since my relationship with my mother was so problematic, this was the real drive in me, the real odyssey, and I hope that makes the novel universal, not limited to being about "Israel". Women, sexuality seemed so important to me and to write about these themes as events in a place usually rhapsodized about only in religious terms. Or political terms. Putting myself back there was claiming personhood, visibility, a way to fight these uncomfortable feelings, this anger.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


I'd almost forgotten the numerous and complex pleasures I found in Sue Miller's bestselling first novel, The Good Mother. I'd almost forgotten the way she can build a house, furnish it sumptuously and invite a reader to live there for a while--to experience both the warmth and the claustrophobia that living in a house--or more significantly--living within a family engenders. But I'd only gotten a couple of chapters into her latest offering, Lost in the Forest, when I suddenly remembered the cottage by the lake where the character in The Good Mother vacationed as a child. Though the lovingly remodeled Victorian home or the lush California vineyards where the new novel is set couldn't be further from the musty quiet of the New England cottage by the lake, they are connected by Miller's ability to render sensual details.

I was also reminded that when she is in top form as she is in Lost in the Forest, no one does families better than Sue Miller--particularly the kind of jumbled up "new" families that many of us find ourselves in these days. In Miller's families, good people, loving people, fail each other in myriad ways, whether it is by distraction or self-absorption, or ordinary human weakness. And frequently, they find their way back to one another in similarly bumbling ways. Or do not and learn to live with the consequences.

Frequently, in Miller's world, it is the inherent selfishness and unpredictability of sexuality that is set against family and home, besieging it with the force of a class five hurricane. And yet, no one portrays sexuality more honestly, more vividly--or more just plain beautifully--than Sue Miller does. In one passage, she describes a young girl's nascent sexual pleasure as "a house she was moving through which opened up, room after unexpected room, each one more full of light."

As a variation on the classic Lolita story, Lost in the Forest, is in many ways, told with greater complexity and insight than the original. In Miller's version, the eroticism and exploitation is not just something that occurs between an adolescent girl and a much older man; it is something that happens between their pasts and their futures, something that tries to exclude her parents and his wife and all the other people who are part of them, but which only serves to weave them together in new and startling ways.

But above all, this novel is a quest for meaning. What do the dark hills mean as they open out before Mark when he drives through his vineyard at dusk? What is it that Daisy cries for so passionately in the middle of the night, her lonely howl piercing both her adolescence and the heart of the novel? And above all, what does the life of the stepfather who is hit and killed by a car just before the novel opens mean? Though he appears in the narrative only as a memory, John's stability, and humor and simple good heartedness permeates the novel, and forms its central question. Could such a life possibly have been meaningless?

In the end, Miller's characters answer that question with a negative, each in their own way: Eva with a return to conventional faith, Mark by forgiving himself the mistakes of his past and embarking hopefully on a new marriage, and Daisy through her art. But no one answers the question more poignantly than John's young son, Theo, who witnessed his death. After years of silence on the subject, Theo finally remembers the incident in one of the novel's most luminous moments. Standing on a street corner with his mother, he suddenly recalls the violent moment when their world was forever changed. "My dad flew," he announces to his mother gravely. "That time he died, remember...when my dad flew?"

Friday, April 22, 2005


Still stuck on Saturday. Or rather in Saturday, Ian McEwan's condensation of contemporary life into a single day. It is a day commodious enough to include the randomness and terror and fragility that we live with in this millenium, but also spacious enough for satisfactions and opportunities our forebears never imagined. In the novel, Henry Perowne appears to be a man of post-God Europe, and yet his behavior never strays from the highest religious principles. As he goes through his day, we see him acting as a scrupulously faithful husband, and a good son though his mother no longer has the presence of mind to recognize his efforts. He is a doctor of such integrity that he goes out to save the life of a man who has terrorized his family and held a knife to his wife's throat.

In many ways, Henry Perowne begs the question: who are we without God? Are we basically the same mixed bag of bumbling humanity that we are when guided by lofty holy texts, and watched over by a God who never sleeps? Some good, some utterly scurrilous, most of us a complex mix of both. Or without faith to form our consciences and to imbue us with a reason to be good, will we give in entirely to the governing principle of human nature: me first? In many ways, it is unfair to use Perowne as an example because as a fictional character, he is very much tethered to his personal God--the writer who created him. And at times, I found his ethical behavior unconvincing. Would he really leave his wife right after such a traumatic incident to go out and minister to the interloper who threatened everything that is good in their lives? Or is McEwan merely manipulating him to conform to the formative doctrines that he may consider irrelevent?

But for me, the more disturbing question is why the exalted and beautiful texts and beliefs that form the core of the world's great faiths have failed to elevate us beyond our baser nature? And more significantly, why are people who ardently profess faith in various religions frequently uholy, often murderously so? From the Crusades to 9/11 to the clergy sex abuse scandal, we have witnessed people of God who debase every principle they claim to believe. Can a so called secular society, inhabited by confused humans merely trying to do their best be any worse?

In prayer school, we have been studying a Gospel reading that seems to address this subject. It is the story of the woman who enters the house of Simon the leper where Jesus is gathered with several men (presumably Apostles), and annoints Jesus with expensive oil. This earns her a sharp rebuke from the men, who seem to see her as an intruder--and an ignorant one at that. Does the woman have any idea how many poor people could be helped for the price of her wasteful act? But what the men see as a sin against their nascent faith, Jesus views as a stunning and utterly generous act of love, and thus the ultimate good.

I think it has to do with levels of faith. There is the cerebral, prideful level that says, "I possess the truth and you don't, therefore I'm better than you." Carried to its darkest conclusion, it can easily become, "I possess the truth and you don't; therefore my life is of value and yours is not." This is the kind of faith that Jesus repeatedly challenges, and also the kind which is responsible for a religiosity that is often worth than aetheism. It is the prevalence of that inauthentic, loveless faith that has tarnished not only religion, but utimately the concept of the Great Good as well. And for whatever reason, faiths of every variety seems to attract the kind of adherents who see their beliefs as a hammer of judgment and disdain with which to bludgeon so called non-believers. And in their zeal to be right, they fail the one true test of faith. Augustine described it in simple terms that have yet to be exceeded by the most stringent or intellectual analysis:

Love and do what you will.

Friday, April 15, 2005



We have been talking about Ignacian prayer, which is a most interesting, if demanding
method of prayer. But the overall lessons of "what prayer is" and "how it changes your affect" have been the most fascinating aspects of class. I want to understand what happens when the yearning or the desire that we talked about on the first week transcends tradition and technique. I've come to see it as an effort to move from blindness to sight, from unconsciousness to consciousness. An effort, of course, with no guarantee of success. In many ways, the pray-er (who curiously becomes synonymous with her act) is like one of those ancient voyagers, back when the world was still uncharted, who set off to see what was out there. If anything. And yet, in blindness, they were willing to undertake the most arduous of journeys, to risk the possibility of never returning, never seeing loved ones or home again. The deepest forms of prayer involve the same risks, the same days and weeks of monotonous seas, the same potential to alter the shape of the world.

Finished McEwan's latest earlier tonight, and it remained very much on my mind as I tried (and failed) to fall asleep for a couple of hours. Finally, I abandoned the idea and took solace in hot chocolate and my computer, feeling the need to "talk back" to the novel.

As always, the wonders of McEwan's prose kept me spellbound. It has been labeled "post 9/11 fiction," and the connection is evident. The characters in Saturday live with the acute awareness that the streets that seem full of bustling commerce, the lives so full of promise and satisfaction are not nearly as solid as they seem. But to me the novel seems more like a mid-life reckoning, perhaps even McEwan's own. Though he clearly attempted to make his protagonist unlike himself (Henry Perowne even argues with his poet daughter about the value of literature) I saw McEwan's dust jacket photo as the character moved through his story. The skilled surgeon at the height of his powers, never more alive than when he was at work, seems a perfect metaphor for McEwan and his art. And though I know nothing of his life, I can easily imagine him enjoying the warm and intelligent family life: I see him drinking the wines in the spacious high-ceilinged rooms, feeling marginally guilty for the pleasure he takes in his luxury vehicle, even chopping the ingredients for a fish stew described so vividly the fragrant aroma of garlic practically rises from the page.

The most affecting part of the book for me came at the end when Perowne envisions the rest of his life: the deaths of his mother and his father-in-law, the children's final leave taking from home, the gradual withdrawal from his work. He thinks of how easily his mother's things--the ordinary objects with which she defined her life--were packed up and given away when she went to a nursing home, and how small and worthless they seemed once they were no longer attached to her. The final effect is of melancholy coexisting with even the most abundant happiness. In the end, this is not just a novel in which the world as we know it is destabilized by random acts of violence and terror. It is one in which that world is ultimately besieged and undermined by time itself.

I had not meant to connect my two topics in this post, but there is no prayer in Henry Perowne's world. No God. And yet, I come away from this book which elucidates the ephemeral nature of life filled not only with Perowne's melancholy. I'm also full of my prayer school yearning: Let this not be all there is.

Now to bed.

Monday, April 11, 2005


In Sunday's Boston Globe, Dana Gioia addresses the disturbing decline in reading and literacy , especially among young people in the 18-24 year old demographic group.

Let's face it. We're living in a time when great books are considered dispensible. Even the educated feel no stigma in admitting they can't remember the last book they read, or that the only novel they've picked up in five years was the ubiquitous DaVinci Code. In fact, there might even be a certain cachet in being too busy or too technologically oriented for the quiet pleasure a book affords. And yet, I can think of at least five good reasons why literature--the unique gifts of a great book--are more necessary than ever.

1. A great book deepens our understanding of ourselves. As we journey with a well drawn character through whatever challenge the author has created, we are forced to conjure the choices and adaptations that we would make in similar circumstances; as the character grows through adversity or triumph, we undergo a vicarious expansion of self.

2. A great book erases otherness and is thus a bridge to peace. Once you've entered the mind and heart of a skilled writer from a distant country, or any group that you fear or misunderstand, it becomes increasingly difficult to think of that person as an enemy.

3. A great book insinuates its syntax and vocabulary mysteriously into your brain, expanding your own powers of expression.

4. A great book grows the imagination in a way that the more visual mediums never can. When you read, you build a stage in your mind, then populate it with actors. While you sit in utter silence on the beach, you allow the actors to move across that stage, and recreate the ancient dramas and emotions that form our humanity. Thus, reading is a highly interactive experience. It is not an overstatement to say that any greatness we've achieved as a society, we owe in large part to our creativity and imagination as a people.

5. A great book stops time and teaches self-sufficiency, and the pleasure of being alone. It removes you from the swirl and tumult so that when you close the book and return, you will see more clearly, hear more vividly, understand more deeply.

Friday, April 08, 2005


This morning I wrote about the difference between literary and commercial fiction in my fun blog, I'M REALLY NOT A WAITRESS and about my ongoing irritation with the ghettoization of each by the other. I consider a book good if its story entertains and stimulates me, if its characters make me forget my own goals and grievances for a little while, if without ever leaving my couch, or my cramped seat on the bus, I can be transported to a new landscape. If the places I visited or the characters I met are still with me ten years after I put down the book, then it isn't just a good book. It's the real thing. Both bestsellers, and prestigious prizewinners regularly fail the test and pass into irrelevence. When Carol Shields won the Pulitzer Prize, she anchored herself by studying the list of former winners, most of whom had long been forgotten.

The problem is that with so many good to great writers finding their voices and trying them out all over hell, literary A.D.D. is rampant. It's getting harder and harder for the individual voice to implant itself in a reader or writer's distracted head long enough to become an influence. Twenty or thirty years ago, when a writer was questioned about influences, the answers were pretty standard. There was Faulkner and Hemingway, Fitzerald and Woolf, and a few others; we all know their names. Now with so many dazzling, accomplished voices coming at us from all directions, a writer is most likely to ignore them all, and reach back into the past for a safe answer. Chekhov is the one I hear most frequently. Can't go wrong with the master of the short story.

A voice I still hear through the din is the one that was silenced this week. On hearing of Saul Bellow's death, I mourned him. And maybe that is one of the tests of a great writer; he or she has taken you so deeply into his world, his psyche; you've felt the triumph of their loves, and the annoyance of their pet peeves so acutely that when they die, you actually mourn. Not the way you grieve for a family member, but the way you might mourn a friend who you haven't seen in a long time.

It was lost in the detritus of many moves long ago, but I can still remember my battered paperback copy of Herzog. I'd defaced it with underlinings and furiously scrawled and largely unreadable notes to myself. And I also remember the experience of falling in love with that cranky, sentimental, crass and spiritual character right there on page 1, paragraph 1. (Who says love at first sight is restricted to good looking strangers in bars?) In many ways, Herzog, with his runaway impulse to communicate his petty complaints and his great passion to the world through writing letters to strangers, was the first blogger. He made me love the streets of Chicago with its outcasts and schemers, those who carried weapons, and those who carried nothing more dangerous than their own dreams. I loved it when Herzog said that he wouldn't consider leaving no matter how corrupt or dangerous the city became because his parents were buried there, and he could never be too far from their bones. Bellow got to me when he wrote things like that; he imprinted me. And when, in Humboldt's Gift, he described the formerly elegant poet of the title, ruined by drink and ego, dissheveled and paranoid as he furtively ate a hot dog on the street in New York, he imprinted me again.

Quite simply, Saul Bellow loved the world he found himself in. He loved it enough to write about it with passion and humor, with sorrow and stinging impatience. And he wrote in a way that made the reader love it, too. Now that's Li-te-ra-ture.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


To many of us in the West, Pope John Paul II was an enigma. Was he the progressive critic of capitalism who strongly opposed the death penalty, who greeted Castro as a brother, and forcefully spoke out against the war in Iraq? Or was he the arch conservative who held the line against abortion, birth control, and the ordination of women? Never has the dichotomy been more evident than in the days since his death on Saturday. I've heard progressives, inspired by his work for peace and justice, infer that he was forced to take a hard line against abortion by the exigencies of church doctrine, while conservatives blithely ignore his staunch opposition to preemptive war and the dehumanizing effects of runaway capitalism. Both are wrong.

John Paul II was passionately pro-life, but unlike many who make that claim, the pope's advocacy was not limited to the unborn. It was a generous and all encompassing belief that extended to those who had committed great evil, but were never beyond the possibility of redemption, to suffering civilians and innocent young soldiers who die together in wars waged by distant power brokers. It was a mystical belief that held life so sacred that no sexual act which held the possibiltiy of creating it was ever meaningless or profane, no hour of suffering ever bereft of dignity and power. Indeed, one of the qualities most universally admired about this pope was the faith and patience with which he accepted his own great suffering. In John Paul II's worldview, everything that God ordained was for a purpose. A purpose that frequently exceeded human understanding and judgment.

If I were to say that I entirely understood or agreed with his vision of life, I would be disingenuous. But then, I am a citizen of the West, increasingly influenced by the highly technological, secular society in which I live. I have never known the poverty or oppression
that informed the radical heart of the Gospels. At honest moments, I wonder if the Christ who came for the poor and the dispossessed would recognize me as I sit in my comfortable home, replete with technological wonders. Or if I, glancing up from my computer screen, or hurriedly going about my business in the world, would know him.

Indeed, how much can we in the West, who have lost much of our connection with the earth, who increasingly assert dominion over everything around us, from the resources we despoil with abandon to the right to decide which lives are meaningful and which are not, even claim to understand the meaning of the word "life?" It is very clear that our wisdom has not kept pace with our technology.

In an editorial in today's New York Times (Op-Ed Contributor: The Price of Infallibility) Thomas Cahill cites the John Paul II's conservative policies for the declining attendance at many Catholic churches in the U.S. But the liberal churches, which have been most adaptive to societal changes, have experienced even steeper declines. In many ways, the response has been: Thanks for agreeing with us; now remind us again: why do we need you?

As a young man, Karol Wotyla intimately experienced what it meant when humans claimed dominion over life and death. Undoubtedly, the horrors of the Nazi regime and the soulless vision of Communism under which he lived informed everything he did and everything he wrote. He dedicated his papacy and his life to an all consuming fight against it. Knowing what occurred when life was devalued, he would exalt it to the highest level of sacredness. In his seminal work, The Gospel of Life, he ardently defends the values that were formed in the furnace of the second world war and its aftermath. Whether we agree with him or not, it is worth reading.

In a recent episode of Frontline on PBS, John Paul II's life was considered in a measured way.
It ended by humbly confronting the enigma that he represents, particularly to the West. Was his life a futile fight against modernity itself? Or was he the prophet of our time, whose warnings about the culture of death go unheeded at our peril?

Monday, April 04, 2005


I was a shy college student who'd published a short story or two, and she was the author of a legendary first novel when her husband invited me to dinner. As an editor at The Massachusetts Review, Fred Robinson had discovered one of my stories in the slush pile and published it. The gracious, traditional home the Robinsons shared with their two sons was less than a mile from the housing project where I lived with my own two boys, the result of a precipitous marriage at eighteen. Apparently, Fred was curious about the writer who lived in the projects and always had her shades closed when he passed. One day, he stopped by the restaurant where I worked as a waitress and invited me to dinner.

By then, I had read Housekeeping three times, and I loved it so much that I'd committed several passages to memory. Before the night of the dinner, I agonized over how to express my admiration. What could I possibly say that the feted author hadn't heard a million times--and undoubtedly with more eloquence? What I wanted to tell her most was that at certain points in the novel I identified so strongly and painfully with the outsiders she'd created that I had to close the book and put it aside. At other times, I almost wept as Marilynne Robinson's characters walked off the page and into my apartment and made themselves at home amid the tumult of my life.

Then there was the question of what to bring. Fred had called to say they were making a curry, if that was all right with me. All right with me? Ravioli from the can would have been a treat in their company. I purchased a dense loaf of bread at an exhorbitant price from a chi chi bakery in town. However, by the time I got it home, I decided it wasn't an appropriate accompaniment to curry, and served it to my kids with peanut butter instead. Wine was a better idea, but as I stood before the dizzying selection in the liquor store, the only brands I recognized were the kind I'd drunk furtively in high school--cheap apple and strawberry flavored concoctions with twist off caps, more like soda with a kick than wine. Feeling more like one of Robinson's misfit characters than ever, I fled the liquor store empty handed.

In the end, that was how I presented myself at the Robinson home: empty handed and too tongue tied to say a word about the novel that haunted me. Ironically, the celebrated author was the one who complimented me on my writing. And yet from the moment, Marilynne came down the stairs with her long hair twisted into a coil over one shoulder, she was a gracious hostess. Who knows? Perhaps she, too, recognized a little bit of her own Sylvie in my awkwardness and was determined to make me feel at home.

The curry (which I had never had before) was splendid, and for dessert, Marilynne served the most delicious blueberry pie I've ever tasted (a one crust version with uncooked blueberries and freshly whipped cream). Learning to make a good pie crust was part of her western heritage, she explained, and promised to give me her recipe.

But far more memorable than the food was the rousing conversation we shared before, during, and after the meal. The Robinsons were an exuberant couple whose warmth and wide ranging enthusiasms temporarily dispelled the shyness that was the curse of my younger years. One subject we discussed that evening was Marilynne's work in progress, a novel about a woman living in France where the Robinsons had recently spent a year.

Shortly thereafter, I moved away, and when I tried to contact Fred at the Review, I learned that their world had been through a similar upheaval, culminating in divorce and relocation. However, for many years, like much of the literary world, I watched for a sign of the intriguing novel Marilynne had described that evening over dinner. When it never appeared, I assumed it fell victim to the inevitable pressures and inflated expectations that follow such a highly praised debut. If so, Marilynne was right to withhold it. Right to make us wait these long decades for Gilead, a novel that is once again so glowingly reviewed that it seems there is nothing for the solitary reader to add.

But this time I will add it anyway. Unlike Housekeeping, which I devoured, Gilead is a novel to be read slowly. I allowed myself only three or four pages a night. More than that and I felt as dizzy as I was standing before a selection of unfamiliar wines those many years ago. It is a novel of the senses, of the heart and mind, but most of all it is a novel of that wan and underfed guest: the soul.