TUPELO – Some 200 people gathered Wednesday at the Lee County Library to hear Mississippi syndicated columnist Sid Salter discuss the novel “Gilead” with his daughter, Kate, who teaches English at Mississippi State University.
The two took turns analyzing the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel chosen as the subject of a month-long series of events called “Tupelo Reads: We’re All on the Same Page.”
“It asks the fundamental question: Does memory transcend this earthly existence and follow us into heaven?” Sid Salter said of the book, which he likened to Eric Clapton’s opening line from “Tears in Heaven” about the death of the singer’s young son.
Written by Marilynne Robinson, the novel follows a dying, fictional pastor as he puts on paper his life story so his young son might better know him after he’s gone. In doing so, the central character reveals a sorrowful past that he nonetheless wishes to remember in his afterlife.
“The book is life-affirming in that it teaches us to appreciate what’s going on now,” Kate Salter said, “even the bad parts.”
She then talked about her mother, who had suffered for decades from a debilitating form of multiple sclerosis that finally took her life in 2005.
Although difficult to deal with, the disease shaped Kate Salter’s opinion of her mother as a fighter. Those are memories she wishes to keep in the afterlife, she said.
Her father echoed those sentiments and asked, with a touch of humor, how friends and family reconnect in heaven and whether they maintain the same relationships.
He wondered whether his late wife would warmly greet him or say dryly, “Well, I see you remarried.”
The book’s main character, the Rev. John Ames, dwells on some of the same questions and with theology in general as he ponders the legacies of his late father and grandfather, both preachers in same town of Gilead, Iowa. Ames also reflects on mostly painful and lonely life after the passing of his first wife and daughter, who died together in childbirth.
Despite the heavy subject matter, the book carries a message of redemption and illustrates the simple joy of just being alive.
“Forgiveness,” Kate Salter said, “is at the root of this novel.”
The Salters’ book review was the second event in this year’s Tupelo Reads program. High school students had displayed original artwork inspired by “Gilead” on Tuesday at the GumTree Museum of Art.
And on Oct. 2, the library will host a Pastors’ Roundtable. They’ll discuss “Gilead,” with lunch served at 11:30 a.m. and the program from noon to 1 p.m.