April 19, 2016
Finished reading the large print edition of Marilynne Robinson’s Lila (2014), the third of her Gilead novels. Shame is one of the themes of the book, and at one point in the first half of the book, Lila thinks, “I am baptized, I am married, I am Lila Dahl, and Lila Ames. I don’t know what else I should want. Except for the shame to be gone, and it ain’t” (p. 151). A little later Rev. Ames says to her, “I really don’t think preachers ought to lie. Especially about religion” (p. 159). Even toward the end of the book Lila is still aloof. She thinks, “That’s one good thing about the way life is, that no one can know you if you don’t let them” (p. 325).
On the next to last page of the book, Lila thinks, “There was no way to abandon guilt, no decent way to disown it. All the tangles and knots of bitterness and desperation and fear had to be pitied. No, better, grace had to fall over them” (p. 412). So along with shame, grace is also an important theme of the book.
“The Power of Grace” is the title of an article in the October 2014 issue of “The Atlantic.” Leslie Jamison, the author, begins her perceptive article with these words: “Marilynne Robinson tracks the movements of grace as if it were a wild animal, appearing for fleeting intervals and then disappearing past the range of vision, emerging again where we least expect to find it. Her novels are interested in what makes grace necessary at all—shame and its afterlife, loss and its residue, the limits and betrayals of intimacy.”
Maybe it was because all the praise it had received caused me to expect too much, but I was a bit disappointed in Lila. Still, it was a fine book and one I enjoyed more and more as I read through it.
June will be leading a discussion of this book at her “Persian Pickles” book club on Thursday.