Courtesy of Beaverdale Books
Review by Sally Wisdom
Farrar Strauss Giroux
Oct. 7, 2014
University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop professor Marilynne Robinson returns to the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, in her beautifully written new novel “Lila.” The town and most of its characters were introduced in her novel, “Gilead,” for which she was awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. The town of Gilead was also the location for Robinson’s novel “Home” with many of the same events told from a different perspective.
In “Gilead,” the Reverend John Ames recounts his life and the lives of his minister father and grandfather in a missive to the young son he knows he will not live to see to adulthood. Somewhere close to his biblical limit of threescore and 10 years, Reverend Ames finds himself intrigued by a vagrant woman who wanders into his church. Defying all probability, they are soon married and she is pregnant with the child he is addressing.
“Lila” is this woman’s story and is told from her perspective. Taken as a child from a miserable, abusive home by “Doll,” a woman who appears equally incapable of raising her, Lila lives a hand-to-mouth existence with a band of drifters. After their marriage, the ever-gentle Reverend Ames encourages her to talk about her past but is careful to apply no pressure. In so doing, he kindly introduces her to his compassionate, non-judgmental form of Christianity, which she struggles to mesh with the life she has led and the unconventional characters she has known. Lila is frequently torn between basking in the quiet stability of her new life and resisting the urge to return to the only kind of life she had ever known.
Readers will find “Lila” hard to forget long after the last page is turned. CV
Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.