Publisher and Publication Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2014.
Audience: Readers who have loved the previous books written by Robinson-the Gilead books. Any reader who loves the beauty of a well told story.
Lila won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2015.
This is the first book I’ve read by Marilynne Robinson.
The book has been explained as a love story between Lila and John Ames. When I think of a love story, (a fictionalized film or book) I think about a romantic and sensual story. Lila is not that kind of love story. It is the story of a young woman who has spent her life wandering. She’s not had a permanent home. The book reflects on her early childhood, when a woman named Doll found Lila and began to care for her. Doll and Lila didn’t really have a home. But, Doll did the best she could in raising Lila. So, what kind of love story is Lila? It is a story of the kind of love that’s covered with grace. It’s the kind of love that’s covered in sacrifice-a sacrificial type love. Instead of explaining what the words grace and sacrifice mean, Robinson shows it through the two people in Lila’s life who have deeply loved her.
Robinson tells the story. This gives a broad view of what is happening, but I also know what Lila is thinking. I’m privy to her ponderings and perspective.
Lila is hardworking. She is comfortable in cleaning, laundry, and gardening. She’s comfortable covered in sweat and dirt. She is not comfortable with a life she’s never known. A life with a home and husband. A life where the people who live in a town see her as a person equal to them and not their hired laborer.
John is proud of Lila. They walk together and he introduces her to the people as his wife. He is gentle, thoughtful, and loving. He does not rush Lila. He sees her differently than she sees herself. He doesn’t worry about her past. He settles on who she is today, his lovely wife.
John shows Lila grace. Grace that is poured out on Lila. He is extravagant in his love and grace to Lila. And all the people in town see this pouring out of love and grace.
There is no denying the fact that John is a much older man and Lila is a young woman.
John is the town preacher. He is a respectable man. Lila has not had the “kind” of life that’s expected of a pastor’s wife. John loves Lila anyway.
I recently read that one of the things that destroys a marriage is unrealistic expectations. While reading Lila I didn’t see that the couple had unrealistic expectations. There is a calm resolve from John. He doesn’t worry about Lila. He is patient and kind. He shows Lila the fullness of love.
I’ve given a little more information about the book in the “My Thoughts” section of this review, because there are some things I want to point out.
1. Lila is a story that shares things about people and society. The town of Gilead is small, but it is a picture of the world. People judge people; and they place them in places they want them to be. For example, that person goes in the “bad” place, because they’ve committed a worse sin that other sins. That person goes in another place because they are a different color that I am. That person has a handicap so they need to go in that other place. And, that person needs to be placed in another place because they have different political beliefs than I do. We gravitate towards people who look like us and think like us and believe as we do. Those are the people we consider to be on our team! Lila doesn’t fit with any of the other people in Gilead. Yet, she stays. And, John and Lila marry. Two people unalike in many ways but love each other.
2. There are different types of love. Inherently we know this, but it’s good to be reminded. Real love is not just the romantic gushing and sensual thrill. Real love is seeing the person you love just as they are and you love them anyway. You love them when they are dirty and sweaty. You love them when you disagree. You love them when they are fearful and misunderstand certain things. You love them even when the people on your “team” don’t understand.
3. Doll is the parent figure who began caring for Lila. Doll took a chance on taking care of Lila. Doll’s heart was moved by this rascally dirty little girl. Doll and John have loved Lila sacrificially. They did the unthinkable. They went out of their comfort zone. They have loved Lila with reckless abandon, not counting the cost.
Lila is a moving story. It’s a story that leaves an imprint on the mind and heart. It’s a story that made me question the kind of love I give.