Your hair is straight and dark, and your skin is very fair. I suppose you’re not prettier than most children. You’re just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.
Thus writes John Ames, the main character in Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead. The novel takes the form of a lengthy letter written by Ames, an elderly Iowa pastor who married late in life and, struck with a terminal illness, faces the prospect of leaving behind his wife and young son. In the letter – intended to be read by the son long after his father’s demise – Ames writes the many things he would have liked to impart to his son had illness not intervened.