Published by Picador ISBN 9781250074843
Trade paperback, $16, 272 pages
Marilynne Robinson's Lila is the third book, following her Pulitzer prize-winning novel Gilead and Home, set in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. In Gilead, elderly Reverend John Ames has a very young wife named Lila and young son, whom he is writing a long letter to which is the story of the novel.
In Lila, we get to know more of Lila, the enigmatic, quiet figure from the periphery of Gilead. The beginning of the book introduces us to the young child Lila, freezing out on a door stoop after someone got tired of her crying. A poor woman named Doll came to her rescue, and takes the severely neglected and abused Lila and runs away.
There is a heartbreaking scene as Doll takes Lila to another house, where the woman there gently cleans up the sick and exhausted Lila. It made me cry and that was just page seven.
Lila has had a hard life and one day while walking through Gilead, she finds herself exhausted and sees a little abandoned house. She stays there for weeks, living on fish and dandelion greens. She wanders into town and ends up at Reverend John Ames' church during services.
After church, she stops by John Ames' home and he invites her in. Watching their relationship blossom, the tender way he cares for Lila and the way she comes to care for him is beautiful, like watching a flower slowly blossom and bloom. Lila works on instinct, and Reverend Ames on intellect, yet they manage to find a way to each other.
The writing is gorgeous, the kind that makes want to re-read passages over again to get a full appreciation of Robinson's poetry and skill, like this one:
So when she was done at Mrs. Graham's house she took the bag of clothes and walked up to the cemetery. There was the grave of the John Ames who died as a boy, with a sister Martha on one side and a sister Margaret on the other. She had never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you'd know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place. And there was the Reverend John Ames, who would have been the preacher's father, with his wife beside him. It must be strange to know your whole life where you will be buried. To see these stones with your own name on them. Someday the old man would lie down beside his wife. And there she would be, after so many years, waiting in sunlight, all covered in roses.Lila is a work of art, a quiet book that will pull at your heartstrings and maybe look at people in a different way. It won many awards last year, including The National Book Critics Circle Award, and made many publications Top Ten Lists. It is a book to contemplate and savor. I give it my highest recommendation.