I don't know what one can say for the literary establishment these days, but it should be noted that they gave Pulitzer to the most deserving of books. And for those to whom this fact may be important, the Times liked it too.
This is the kind of novel that leaves one feeling the reality we live in is the fiction, and the one the characters inhabit is real. I can't imagine something much more capable of fueling, for a graduating Seminarian, the conviction that ministry is simply something worth doing. I'm soon to graduate myself, but to more study instead of the pastorate; yet after Gilead I was surprised to find in myself a healthy dose of envy for those of my classmates with parish ministry in store.
Not being an avid enough fiction reader to judge the literary merit of the book, all I can say is that I liked it. But theologically, Gilead is top-shelf. The main character is a pastor that can read Feurbach for appreciation without losing his faith, and Barth for stimulation without weighing down his sermons. His faith is strong enough to not need frenzied defense. He tries to lead his congregation towards mystery, the Christian mystery - as oppose to proofs - and is not a little bit frustrated at the popular radio and television Christianity that foils his attempts.
The denomination that the pastor serves in is never mentioned in the book, an appropriate move seeing that his ministry seems to lay out the humble best of all American Protestant Christianity (at least in its rural form).
And for those well sick of the internecine disputes within that same Protestantism, there is balm in Gilead indeed.