Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Review of "Lila: a Novel" by Marilynne Robinson (2014, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity”, “Fever Pitch”) is a very funny writer and I was enjoying reading a collection of his book reviews. But one thing was annoying me. Several times he expressed his admiration for Richard Dawkins and went on rants about the foolishness of anyone who still believed in God. And then Hornby came across the novel “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson. Not only was he awed by the style of her prose and the power of her intellect, he just didn’t know what to do with her open and solid Christian faith.

Many other secular critics found that the power of Robinson’s writing couldn’t be denied. That 2004 novel won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The book presented not only a Christian perspective, but a Calvinistic theological perspective, so its acclaim was unexpected by many of us Christians who expect the worst from the literary elite, but its respect was well earned.

“Gilead” was the story of an old preacher, John Ames, facing the end of his life, writing to his young the story of his life he knows he won’t be able to tell him in person. “Lila” is the story of that boy’s mother.

Lila lives through the Great Depression in the heartland of the United States as an orphan cared for by a destitute, uneducated, migrant woman. She lives a life of quiet, and sometimes noisy, desperation before, by what seems to be happenstance, getting meet and marry a small town pastor many years her senior.

The novel wrestles with the wonder of grace, and how one can accept it when so many others seem to be without. Profound theological issues are explored, but from the perspective of a woman who has spent most of her life thinking about where she might get her next meal.

The book is really a prequel to “Gilead” and will not disappoint those who loved the first book. (It is actually the third book in a series, the novel “Home” being the second.)

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