If you’ve already read other books in Robinson’s Gilead series, you’ll find this one fleshes out one of the characters you’ve already met — Jack Ames Boughton, the son and godson of the two ministers in the original novel. Jack is a prodigal, a petty thief and drinker, who seems unable to extricate himself from a life in which he suffers and causes suffering to others (but isn’t that all of us on some level?). In this novel, we come to better understand Jack, as he struggles with his demons — are they impulses? temptations? irreparable character flaws? He considers all these possibilities as he engages in an illegal (this is the 1950’s) interracial relationship with Della, a colored teacher. Although the kind and wise thing seems to be to stop seeing one another, they are drawn together by a mutual attraction neither one can resist. As Jack explains it,
“… once in a lifetime, maybe, you look at a stranger and you see a soul, a glorious presence out of place in the world. And if you love God, every choice is made for you There is no turning away You’ve seen the mystery– you’ve seen what life is about.”
The two embark on a “marriage” which separates Della from her family, and even further isolates Jack from respectable society. How will it end? The novel leaves this unknown. However, as a minister tells Jack earlier in the story:
“… if the Lord thinks you need punishing, you can trust Him to see to it. He knows where to find you. If He’s showing you a little grace in the meantime, He probably won’t mind if you enjoy it.”
In spite of the uncertain outcome, Jack and Della’s story leaves room for grace and hope.
VERDICT: THREE STARS. I would read the other books in the series, or at least Gilead first. Also, be prepared for a style that can seem ponderous as times–the focus is on thoughts and ideas, not action.
For other reviews of Christian fiction see: