Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, is the strangest and one of the best pieces of fiction I have read. Mind you, I do not read much fiction, and I commonly read half of a classic novel and then stop. (I think this disorder is listed in the DSM manual). But Lila is a kind of emotional suspense novel–but never histrionic. At one point I literally turned the page quickly to find what would come next.
The work bewildered me not a few times, given its shifts in time and perspective. I did not always know when something had happened. However, the threads weave together as the book goes on. I had to finish this one.
The narrative is of a woman kidnapped (or rescued) by a pathetic and courageous woman who lives on the margins of society. She takes Lila as her own. Skipping much (to not ruin the story), Lila wonders into a town, Gilead, where she meets and marries an old widower preacher. In touching and unexpected ways, they nurture each other’s faith. Much of the plot concerns Lila’s difficulty in accepting love and trusting anyone outside of her old life on the road with tough, but good, drifters.
The novel profound perspective on life, death, risk, evil, hope, fear, and the development and shape of Christian faith–much of it coming from Lila’s thoughts. There is nothing cliche or preachy about it. Robinson has already won a Pulitzer Prize for Gilead, and is a highly respected writer. On top of all this, Calvin is referred to several times, and the story can be seen as a reflection on God’s strange providence.
This is not a light or easy read. It may take you places where you do not want to go. But no matter, take up and read.