This memoir begins with the author contemplating Saint Augustine’s famous words, “God, send me chastity . . . but not yet.” This quotation is a clear sign that Gilman is writing his own spiritual autobiography as the latest in a tradition of which Augustine is at once the originator and greatest example. Like Augustine, Gilman gives his life structure and rhythm, peaks and valleys, with the reappearance of key themes—sexuality, death, and faith—and his closeness to or distance from God.
Normal chronological structure, specific dates and times, are deliberately discarded in favor of these other devices. Gilman ignores normal concepts of chronology to the extreme of not giving the reader his birth date. Dates are used only when Gilman wishes to mark the beginning of his conversion, “on a very hot day in the summer of 1952,” and when he wishes to indicate how long he held various jobs. Except for these examples, Gilman’s life exists as a spiritual drama on the stage of eternity, a drama in a world outside of and beyond worldly time.
The raw materials of Gilman’s life and ideas are books and the realm of literature. Books are more real than most people, and their simple physical qualities have a sensuality that is superior to his recollections of his own sexuality. His favorite childhood pastime of reading the encyclopedia unites intellect, sense, and soul.
When Gilman opens the encyclopedia, he has one of the most...
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