Gilead and Lila

Walking with Cake: Lila and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

(Lila and Gilead, both by Marilynne Robinson.)

I recently finished Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Gilead, and its prequelLila.  Gilead has been on my reading list for a while now, and it’s a really beautiful, contemplative book that I found very slow at times. The novel is written in narrative form without much dialogue at all, and features the letters of John Ames, an elderly pastor nearing the end of his life, writing to his very young son, the product of an unexpected late-in-life marriage. Ames’ life experiences shape the course of the book, and his faith plays a dominant role, almost like another character. I wouldn’t call this a religious novel, but it is definitely an interesting glimpse into the beliefs of the main character. His love for his wife and son is palpable, and I marked many beautiful passages to save for another time.  John Ames is a remarkable character, on par with Atticus Finch, and reading his private thoughts is a transforming experience.

Lila, which was released last fall, recounts the story of Ames’ wife, and was a much quicker read for me. Her life before meeting John Ames was truly heartbreaking, and when I read the book in a waiting room or during the boys’ gymnastics class, I found myself stopping often to blink away tears. Lila’s struggles and the rawness of her existence on the edge of society really stand out in contrast to Ames’ quiet, restrained life, though both characters have known their share of pain, which bonds them to each other in the end.

Robinson’s books aren’t sensational or even plot-driven, but they are extremely insightful and reflective of basic human emotions. There’s a third novel in this series, Home, written between Gilead and Lila, though it focuses on a secondary character who appears in Gilead. I’m taking a quick break to read The Girl on the Train, a totally different book, and then I plan to start Home.

Have you read any of Marilynne Robinson’s books? What are you reading now?

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