The three most recent, interrelated novels””Gilead, Home, and Lila, which was released last month””are exquisitely imagined human stories that work out many of the theological themes to which Robinson’s writing returns again and again. It is not quite accurate to describe them as “engag[ing] deeply with the thornier aspects of Calvinist theology,” given that Robinson’s characters””themselves devout Calvinists””rue the “crude” use to which certain doctrines (e.g. predestination) have been put. It would be truer to say that Robinson’s novels engage deeply with a theology of amazing grace.
Lila is the story of Reverend Ames’s wife, whose presence in Home and Gilead is shy and mysterious. Until now, readers have only known that she is uneducated, much younger than Rev. Ames, and that she has had a hard life. If Gilead is an old preacher’s letter to his son, explicating the Ten Commandments, and Home is a meditation on the resonance of the story of the prodigal son (and these are reductionistic descriptions, to be sure), Lila is the strange parable in Ezekiel, of God seeing Israel as an orphaned baby, “weltering” in blood, and taking it up, and loving it into life.
“I believe in the grace of God,” Reverend Ames tells Lila, his wife, who, though settled in Gilead, struggles to feel at home, and worries what will become of the people who raised her; the people she loved, none of whom gave much thought to their immortal souls. “For me, that is where all questions end.”