Gilead, Home, Lila...for the past two weeks I’ve been living with Marilynne Robinson’s characters in these three novels set in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. My heart has ached with them as they look for grace in their lives and relationships. I’ve rejoiced with them over small moments of warmth and closeness. I've pondered with them - why do things happen the way they do? What does it mean to forgive? How do we learn to trust ourselves and the people who profess to love us?
I have to confess. I first read Gilead and Home about three years ago, and was not in love with them. They both seemed so heavy and introspective. I needed more to happen.
My reaction bothered me. I had heard so much praise for Robinson’s body of work. She is a writer’s writer, I heard. All the readers and writers I respect most love and study her work.
It seems she is an oracle. Why did this book fail to move me?
So when I heard about Lila, the third novel in this grouping that would focus on the woman who married Reverend John Ames of Gilead, the novel that would tell Lila's hard scrabble story and reveal how a young woman drifted in off the street, ended up married to a much, much older man and bearing him a son, I decided to tackle the other two books again. In preparation.
This time around, I got it. All of it. The reasons writers especially love Marilynne Robinson. The things this woman does with words and ideas, the way she forces the reader to just slooooooow down, savor and ponder every sentence - it is a master class in going deep. These are very spiritual books, they delve into topics of faith and grace and fate, of honoring mothers and fathers and family history. Of being a good neighbor and a good steward of gifts.
They are not books to read when you’re waiting in the doctor’s office. They are not books to read while lying on the beach.
They seem best read in a quiet room while the fireplace crackles and sputters, with maybe a cup of coffee close at hand. Or sitting on a long front porch overlooking a grassy meadow, while birds sing on the wires and wind shushes through the pines. In a place where you can sit and be still. Where you can read without the distractions of modern life.
Reading all three of these books together is like being baptized in the River Robinson. It’s a total immersion baptism. And I’m coming up refreshed and renewed, just as it should be.
How about you? Do you ever immerse yourself in one writer and read all their books in a row?
What are you reading this week?