Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Justin and I are both big fans of the Gilead/Home/Lila trilogy by Marilynne Robinson. In fact, we were so eager we got Lila from the library the very first day it came out (last October). Justin favors Gilead and I favor Home, but we both feel the same way about Lila. Here is his "in a nutshell" review:  

"Taken as a whole, Marilynne Robinson's 
Gilead(Ames/Boughton) trilogy is the finest American literary work in more than a generation. Gilead alone is a masterpiece; Home back-weaves onto the existing pattern a drop-shadow to underscore its beauty and pain.

Then Lila came along, doing to the story the same thing its title character did to John Ames, upending settled realities and causing reflection on and reinterpretation of past events.

The story is undeniably beautiful, this time told in a stream-of-consciousness style that manages kinship with the two previous books while striking a tone all its own. Lila's "cornered-animal" psyche (and her slow growth into trust and hope) that is only hinted at in Gilead and Home is fleshed out more fully, explaining her without squelching her mystery and strangeness.

What makes this trilogy stand out is Robinson's unabashed metaphysics, framing the characters and the story in Scripture, theological reflection, and spiritual realities. Because of nature of this story, the problem of her throwaway universalist statements in the last three pages of Lila snatches that humble, worshipful significance from the whole collection.

As insightful and polished a thinker as Robinson is (read her essays to get a flavor for that), she has the weakness so common to American Christian thinkers of believing her particular theology more than she believes the Bible. Lila is a story of unsought, unmerited grace (with John Ames playing the part of redeemer) flowing from the fount of Calvin and others. By the end, though, that grace becomes so sloppily irresistible (pouring down even on those who completely reject it and the God who gives it) as to be utterly meaningless. 

If Robinson's conception of the Day of Lord were true, the hard-fought faithfulness of Ames, Boughton, and their loved ones is reduced to pitiful farce."