I finished Gilead last night and have to add it with Out Stealing Horses to my list of the best novels I've read in the last couple of years. Maryilynne Robinson created a fascinating character in the Reverend John Ames; a decent man caught at the end of his life with his family just beginning. It's really an epistolary novel addressed to Ames' young son for him to read later in his life. His accounts of growing up in turn of the century Iowa, dealing with the loneliness of bachelorhood and coming to terms with his distrustful feelings toward his namesake, the son of his closest friend, provide more drama and conflict than I would have thought possible.
Ames' Christianity is handled deftly by Robinson. He comes from a line of Congregationalist preachers, but he is far from a zealot. Ames's brother was an atheist, to their father's discontent, and Ames recounts his poring over the texts that his brother recommended, but it only strengthened his faith. Normally, I would be skeptical of such a devout main character, but Robinson has instilled Ames with such intelligence and insightfulness that he's the type of man you want to spend time with. Chalk this up to one that didn't appeal to me on the surface, but turned out to be a favorite. Now I'll have to read Home.