Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead novels are a damn delight to read. They’re quiet and smart and thoughtful about people and relationships and how to be good to one another and faith. I’m less interested in faith than in anything else in that list, but she makes faith about how to be good to other people, and I’m very interested in that.

If you’ve read the prior novels (and I wish I’d re-read them before starting this one), you know that Jack is the screw-up who tests everyone’s ability to be good to each other. He’s the son of a priest who’s an atheist and a troublemaker. Before leaving town, he gets a girl pregnant. Yes, he runs off on her, and she eventually leaves their small Iowa town for Chicago. In Jack, this is all history, and he’s had a stint in jail to boot.

Now, he is in St Louis and aware that he is a malevolent force in the world. All he wants is to be harmless; it’s the goal he’s working towards. Alas, he has the unfortunate luck to fall in love with a Black woman, Della, and this is the 1950s. This is the opposite of harmless, and he knows it. So does she. They try to stay apart and sometimes it works better than others. But they are in love, and it’s a mature, understanding sort, these are not crazy kids making bad life choices.

Robinson has enormous sympathy for Jack and Della, and her kindness and love show in every word in Jack. I was eagerly awaiting this book, and it did not disappoint.

A state of grace

Lila by Marilynn Robinson

What’s it about?
Ostensibly, it’s about a woman in a small town in Iowa, falling in love with a preacher who is much older than her, getting married, and having a baby.¬†But it’s also about so much more. It’s about loneliness and how you connect with other people. It’s about why things happen in the first place. It’s about a very practical, and very loving, version of Calvinism – religion is everywhere in Lila but it’s quiet and practical and encourages everyone to get along. It’s a version of church that’s about fellowship, not ideology. And yes, the baby being born is very symbolic of Jesus’ birth to be a savior. Even if the little boy is only¬†saving Lila.

Why should you read it?
Because Marilynn Robinson is easily one of the best writers ever. She writes both intimately and expansively. The little town of Gilead could be the biggest city in the world because it has everything she needs to tell her story. Her characters remind me of my grandparents, who lived in rural Iowa: loving but reserved, deeply but not outwardly religious. I love them all. I loved Lila.