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Lilaby Marilynne Robinson
With Lila, Marilynne Robinson revisits her beloved town of Gilead, just as she did with Home. This time around, her focus is on Lila Ames, who in both previous novels has been a sort of paragon of calm and dignity. In Lila we learn about her childhood and young adulthood, which could not be further from calm or dignified. Lila lives through a childhood that begins in neglect and works its way through unceasing labor, abandonment, and the endless struggle for survival. Unexpectedly arriving in Gilead, Iowa, and meeting the Reverend John Ames, Lila's life is about to take another sharp turn. The Gilead/Home/Lila trilogy, read together, is a gorgeous, layered, nuanced look at small-town America, full of beauty and peace — truly home. Exploring themes of trust, family, rebirth, security, and love, Lila is stunning and beautiful. It's an intricate look at the complexities of the heart.
Yet another quiet masterpiece from Marilynne Robinson, Lila stood head and shoulders above the rest of my reading this year. I can still hear Lila's voice in my head months later, and I can't remember the last time I finished a book and had such a lingering sense of a character's presence, as if I'd actually spent time with a living, breathing person. I haven't been so exquisitely lost in a book in years, and continue to be grateful for Robinson's evident fascination with this tiny town in midcentury Iowa and the souls who reside there.
Synopses & Reviews
A new American classic from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead and Housekeeping
Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest novelists of our time, returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder. Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church — the only available shelter from the rain — and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the life that preceded her newfound security. Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand to mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. Despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life was laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to reconcile the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband which paradoxically judges those she loves.Revisiting the beloved characters and setting of Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead and Home, a National Book Award finalist, Lila is a moving expression of the mysteries of existence that is destined to become an American classic.
"This third of three novels set in the fictional plains town of Gilead, Iowa, is a masterpiece of prose in the service of the moral seriousness that distinguishes Robinson's work. This time the narrative focuses on Lila, the young bride of elderly Reverend Ames, first met in Gilead. Rescued as a toddler from abusive caretakers by a rough but kind drifter named Doll, raised with love but enduring the hard existence of a field worker, and later, in a St. Louis whorehouse, Lila is a superb creation. Largely uneducated, almost feral, Lila has a thirst for stability and knowledge. As she yearns to forget the terrible memories and shame of her past, Lila is hesitant to reveal them to her loving new husband. The courtship of the couple — John Ames: tentative, tender, shy, and awkward; Lila: naive, suspicious, wary, full of dread — will endure as a classic set piece of character revelation, during which two achingly lonely people discover the comfort of marital love. Threaded through the narrative are John Ames's troubled reflections that the doctrines of his Calvinist theology, including the belief that those who are not saved are destined for hell, are too harsh. Though she reads the Bible to gain knowledge, Lila resists its message, because it teaches that her beloved Doll will never gain the peace of heaven. Her questions stir up doubt in Ames's already conflicted mind, and Robinson carefully crafts this provocative and deeply meaningful spiritual search for the meaning of existence. What brings the couple together is a joyous appreciation of the beauty of the natural world and the possibility of grace. The novel ends with the birth of their son, to whom Ames will leave his diary in Gilead." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Writing in lovely, angular prose that has the high loneliness of an old bluegrass tune, Ms. Robinson has created a balladlike story....The novel is powerful and deeply affecting....Ms. Robinson renders [Lila's] tale with the stark poetry of Edward Hopper or Andrew Wyeth." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Ever since the publication of Robinson's thrilling first novel, Housekeeping, reviewers have been pointing out that, for an analyst of modern alienation, she is an unusual specimen: a devout Protestant, reared in Idaho. She now lives in Iowa City, where she teaches at the Iowa Writers Workshop and where, for years, she has been accustomed to interrupting her career as a novelist to produce essays on such matters as the truth of John Calvin's writings. But Robinson's Low Church allegiance has hugely benefitted her fiction....This is an unflinching book." Joan Acocella, The New Yorker
"Marilynne Robinson tracks the movements of grace as if it were a wild animal, appearing for fleeting intervals and then disappearing past the range of vision, emerging again where we least expect to find it. Her novels are interested in what makes grace necessary at all — shame and its afterlife, loss and its residue, the limits and betrayals of intimacy. In Lila, her brilliant and deeply affecting new novel, even her description of sunlight in a St. Louis bordello holds a kind of heartbreak....Robinson's determination to shed light on...complexities — the solitude that endures inside intimacy, the sorrow that persists beside joy — marks her as one of those rare writers genuinely committed to contradiction as an abiding state of consciousness. Her characters surprise us with the depth and ceaseless wrinkling of their feelings." Leslie Jamison, The Atlantic
"Radiant....As in Gilead and Home, Robinson steps away from the conventions of the realistic novel to deal with metaphysical abstractions, signaling by the formality of her language her adoption of another convention, by which characters inhabiting an almost Norman Rockwell-ish world...live and think on a spiritual plane....[Lila is] a mediation on morality and psychology, compelling in its frankness about its truly shocking subject: the damage to the human personality done by poverty, neglect and abandonment." Diane Johnson, The New York Times Book Review
"In her new novel, Lila, Marilynne Robinson has written a deeply romantic love story embodied in the language and ideas of Calvinist doctrine. She really is not like any other writer. She really isn't....Robinson has created a small, rich and fearless body of work in which religion exists unashamedly, as does doubt, unashamedly." Cathleen Schine, New York Review of Books
"Robinson's genius is for making indistinguishable the highest ends of faith and fiction....The beauty of Robinson's prose suggests an author continually threading with spun platinum the world's finest needle." Bookforum
"Robinson has created a tour de force, an unforgettably dynamic odyssey, a passionate and learned moral and spiritual inquiry, a paean to the earth, and a witty and transcendent love story — all within a refulgent and resounding novel so beautifully precise and cadenced it wholly tranfixes and transforms us." Donna Seaman, Booklist, Starred Review
"This is a lovely and touching story that grapples with the universal question of how God can allow his children to suffer. Recommended for fans of Robinson as well as those who enjoyed Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, another exploration of pain and loneliness set against the backdrop of a small town." Evelyn Beck, Library Journal, Starred Review
"Literary lioness Robinson — she's won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award, among other laurels — continues the soaring run of novels with loosely connected story lines and deep religious currents that she launched a decade ago, almost a quarter century after her acclaimed fiction debut, Housekeeping....Lila's journey — its darker passages illuminated by Robinson's ability to write about love and the natural world with grit and graceful reverence — will mesmerize both longtime Robinson devotees and those coming to her work for the first time." Elle
About the Author
Marilynne Robinson is the author of the novels Home, Gilead (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), and Housekeeping, and four books of nonfiction, When I Was a Child I Read Books, Mother Country, The Death of Adam, and Absence of Mind. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.
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