Summary: A woman familiar with abandonment learns about Grace.
Every once in a while you stumble on something beautiful. I happened to be looking for another book at my library’s website last week and it happened that Lila had just been released that morning and I stumbled on it before anyone else grabbed it.
So this past week I have been slowly listening to the lyricism of Robinson’s writting. Robinson’s 2005 book, Gilead, won the Pulitzer Prize and it on a number of best novel lists. I read it first about 2 years ago after a number of people had recommended it to me. And I really did enjoy that slow character study of an old pastor, John Ames, writing letters to his young son. He knew that he would not live long enough to pass on the important things in life to his son in person, so he wanted to put them on paper.
Gilead is half about the wisdom of age and half about the hope of life. Lila picks up the story from his much younger wife’s perspective. Lila was a neglected and abandoned child. She was stolen by a passing woman to protect her from her negligent parents. And then raised on the run from both real and feared reprisal.
Lila is a hard woman. One that has not really understood love and grace and mercy. Instead she has fought tooth and nail to survive and still was forced into more than most could bear.
But she came upon the small town of Gilead, and the person of John Ames. He fell in love with her, and she with him, in spite of their difference in ages and stations in life. There is a hint of the grace of the story of Gomer (wife of Hosea) in this book.
There is not a great epic sweep of plot. This is a slow quiet book. Alternating between her history and her struggle to learn to trust and accept the grace of a man’s (and God’s) love.
I listened to the book on audio. It was very well read and I wanted to just quietly sit and listen to it. But even before I finished I bought the Kindle Edition and I will start reading it through a second time as soon as I can get through a few books that I have obligations to review.
If you have read Gilead, there is not much about the story that can be spoiled. But the focus is changed from pastoral mission and confession to a story that lives out the concept of grace better than almost any other that I have read.
Robinson writes theologically dense prose. She is not afraid to bring up the hard questions of suffering, or purpose in life or meaning. Some of the dialogue between John and Lila is very quick and witty. But it is not difficult read, just a read that will likely cause you to think.
As I said on my review of Gilead, this feels like a combination of Eugene Peterson’s theological writing and Wendell Berry’s fiction. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I would strongly encourage anyone that enjoys a novel that really is about the deeper matters of life to pick this up. I have a hard time believing that this will not be on the top of my list of the best fiction I have read this year.