By Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson's critically acclaimed debut novel, Housekeeping (1980), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her next two books, both set in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, were equally celebrated: Gilead (???? SELECTION Mar/Apr 2005) won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, while Home (???? SELECTION Nov/Dec 2008) received the Orange Prize for Fiction. Lila, the third installment in the Gilead trilogy, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
THE STORY: In Gilead, Reverend John Ames, elderly and in poor health, writes a long and moving letter to his young son, which only tangentially mentions his much younger wife, Lila. In Lila, the reverend's wife tells her own story. Kidnapped by a migrant worker, Doll, as a neglected toddler, Lila spends her youth on the road, wandering, penniless, hungry, and cold, but fiercely loyal to the woman who has become her only family. Years later, Lila drifts into Gilead, where she ducks into a church to escape from the rain and first catches sight of her "beautiful old man." An unlikely romance blooms, but can feral, vagabond Lila learn to be happy in one place?
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 272 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780374187613
Dallas Morning News ????
"Praise be: Now we have Lila's story, in her words, from inside her own head. And what a dark, terrifying, dangerous life she led before she walked into the gentle old minister's church on that rainy Sunday.... Lila is a dark, powerful, uplifting, unforgettable novel." BRYAN WOOLLEY
Kansas City Star ****
"Robinson's prose is precise and simple, and always pleasing to the reader's ear. Couple these qualities with her profound respect for her characters' idiosyncrasies, and you have a novel of uncommon virtuosity and intelligence" KEVIN CANFIELD
NY Times Book Review ****
"Told with measured and absorbing elegance, this account of the growing love and trust between Lila and Reverend Ames is touching and convincing.... In the end, Lila is not so much a novel as a meditation 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
San Francisco Chronicle ****
"Here, Robinson is en fuego: Page after page, she provides just the right narrative pressures to force Lila and Ames into full life as characters, imagining it all as a decidedly bizarre, yet believably inevitable romance. Lila is a very good book that sees one of our premier storytellers settling back into a familiar groove." SCOTT ESPOSITO
USA Today ****
"Lila is an exquisite meditation on loneliness, family and faith of all kinds. It is Robinson's finest novel since Housekeeping, and--considering the achievements of Gilead and Home--that's saying quite a lot." CARMELA CIURARU
New York Times ***1/2
"Writing in lovely, angular prose that has the high loneliness of an old bluegrass tune, Ms. Robinson has created a balladlike story about two lost people who, after years of stoic solitariness, unexpectedly find love--not the sudden, transformative passion of romantic movies and novels but a hard-won trust and tenderness that grow slowly over time. The novel is powerful and deeply affecting, but also hobbled, at times, by the author's curious decision to tell the story in the third person, robbing it of the emotional immediacy of Gilead and resulting in occasional passages that seem to condescend to Lila, as an uneducated, almost feral creature." MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette **
"Didactic fiction can almost never be great fiction, and this novel loses power when Rev. Ames tries to explain to his wife why innocent people must suffer.... Oh, how I miss the creative energy of Housekeeping, Ms. Robinson's first novel (1980). It came out before the author became a Calvinist, before she began to break down Old Testament stories for intellectual Christians." SUSAN BALEE
Robinson has the power to make the most mundane moments seem epic as she peels back the layers of seemingly unremarkable lives to reveal the miracles beneath, and Lila's is just such a life. In gorgeous prose, she vividly evokes the Midwest against the backdrop of the 20th century as she explores loneliness, love, redemption, and the role of religion in everyday life. Readers who have yet to visit Gilead in their literary travels need not shy away; Lila stands alone very well. Although some critics felt that the plot loses momentum when Robinson turns to theological questions and others thought a few plot developments strained credulity, they didn't care much. "This may be the most tentative, formal and charming romance you'll ever encounter" concludes the Washington Post critic.
A timeless book to be read by all
One of the best of its genre
Enjoyable, particularly for fans of the genre
Some problems, approach with caution
Not worth your time