Posts Tagged ‘epistolary novel’

26th March
2010
written by Steph

In Edgar Allen Poe’s classic story “The Tell-Tale Heart”, the sound of a still beating heart represents the manifestation of a murderer’s guilt.  The rhythmic pounding riles and incites Poe’s narrator, ultimately driving him to confess his crime in order to gain a reprieve from his torment. However, not all heartbeats are torture.  To me, listening to Tony’s heart beating as we lie in bed at night is one of the most soothing and gentle sounds I know, lulling me softly into the arms of sleep.  The heartbeat is life’s soundtrack, and Gilead – an epistolary novel recounting a dying preacher’s thoughts on life – is like reading a heartbeat. I don’t think it is strictly true to say that Gilead is a narrative without a plot; there are specific stories that Reverend Ames wishes to share with his young son through his letter, but the action is quite fractured, often interrupted by long reflections on faith, family, love, forgiveness and life. The things that happened over the course of Ames’s life are important insofar as all of our experiences shape our present person.  But although such moments are frequent in novels, do real people often have a single moment that defines who they are, just one story to tell?  When looking back on your life, could you easily pick just a single thing as the most important event that transpired all the years that you lived?  Such clarity would probably make for a good story, but it alone might be the very basis of fiction. Regardless, although Gilead may not be the kind of narrative most readers are used to, it is a narrative.  We learn much about the men in the Ames family, starting with John’s grandfather.  John comes from a family of preachers, so he spends a lot of time discussing the many ways in which they have all struggled with issues of faith and applied God’s teachings to their own lives.  Another storyline that features quite prominently is John’s lifelong friendship with a fellow preacher and the difficult relationship John has developed with the man’s troubled son (happens to be named after John and is his godson).  We learn early on that John is very wary of his godson, but it takes most of the novel for us to learn why exactly this is. (more…)