Here is a novel without glamour and without any obvious appeal for beach or airplane reading. John Ames, 76 years old, has long served the same church in Gilead, Iowa, as did his father before him. Ames’s heart is failing, and he has little to bequeath his family other than his old sermons—over 2,000 of them in boxes in the parsonage attic—a source of pride and dismay. He intends to write an account of his life for the seven-year-old son who will grow up without him.
If the author were not Marilynne Robinson, whose first novel was the beloved Housekeeping (1981), we might not take any interest in such a seemingly slender tale. But then some of the greatest novels resist summary. What sounds duller, after all, than The Diary of a Country Priest?