I'm a little daunted by the thought of writing this review. I wasn't expecting this book to touch me so much. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as thoroughly as I did. This and Gilead were lent to me for the summer by a dear friend, who had jotted some choice words in the copy of this book concerning the initial character of Lila. (We've still got some discussing to do, because I still do not find myself agreeing with her ;) That being said, I was not expecting to love, relate to, and pity Lila as much as I did.
Her life began in hardship and continued to be filled with loneliness and lack and pain of over-thinking, only two of those ceasing after she married the Reverend. If I'm sure of anything, it's that the metaphor and allegory of this novel were not lost on me. This book paints one of the most beautiful pictures of the Church and Christ that I have ever seen. Redemption is clear, and her incapability to receive it is too real to bear. She continues to revert, descend into her old thoughts, and to long after her old life, which is as carnal and godless as every Christian's past. I feel like Lila's greatest struggle was putting off her "old man," and accepting the new creation. She never let herself truly believe that the Reverend loved her unconditionally, and that he wouldn't ever send her away once he would learn where she came from. Having already read Gilead and knowing just how dear and loving and wonderful the Reverend is, it was hard to read her thoughts as she debated leaving him before she invested herself too far. It was even harder to read her unproved judgements of his character, assuming him to be a short-tempered, high-and-mighty old man who could never accept her if he only knew from where she had come.
How many times do we avoid, detach, or run away from God because we don't want to disappoint Him with what we once were?
I was moved by how deeply Lila identified with a passage of scripture from Ezekiel chapter 16:
This passage meant more to her because she saw it not as a symbol of Israel's defeated indignity, but as a literal account of a life such as hers. She reveled in the discovery that things from such a downcast, uncivilized, dishonorable life were in the Bible. The following verses resonated in her sojourning heart, and manifested themselves in her life:
“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’
The mystery of redemption was pondered in her mind for years, and grace was a foreign concept. But her story is such a portrait of grace. It makes evident the dramatic, immediate change that takes place, bringing us from the lowest of places to the safest of embraces. Lila went from shivering in the cold in a shack in the woods, resting a stolen fragment of a life she didn't think she deserved, to being fully and wholy swept into that life, embraced by warmth and love that she didn't have words for. To say that this is a beautiful story is an understatement. To say that it was beautifully written is unjustly undescripted. Marilynne Robinson's words through this and Gilead have touched my soul, and the story of John Ames and Lila will delight my memory for th rest of my life.
Pity us, yes, but we are brave, she thought, and wild, more life in us than we can bear, the fire infolding itself in us. That peace could only be amazement, too.