Lila is Robinson’s second novel about a little town in Iowa, Gilead. Where she let John Ames, the preacher, tell his story in Gilead, it is now his wife Lila’s turn. Both novels are demure and written lovingly, Lila is more personal however. One of the reasons being the fact that in her story religion is taken more personally. Whereas John Ames loved religious debate, Lila merely reads the bible and picks those quotes that relate to her life. In 180 pages Lila describes her life as a wandering seasonal worker, taken care of by a woman who abducted her from a home where she was treated cruelly, she describes trying to settle, drifting into Gilead and meeting John Ames by chance. Lila is the story of two different people growing to trust and love each other, it is the story of a woman slowly letting herself relax and accept that her husband loves her – and she loves him. The woman who has grown up learning to distrust people finally finds a home that welcomes her and accepts her for who she is. John Ames does not pressure her for information about her life, she tells him bits and pieces whenever she is ready to do so (often surprising herself).
Lila is also the story of the great depression in the thirties. Robinson has given a story to the nameless seasonal workers we have come to know through the photo’s of Dorothea Lange: no expectations, weary and hungry. Robinson has written a beautiful novel which clearly shows the devastating effect of poverty on people. Lila does not marry John Ames because he is the love of her life, she marries him because she instinctively feels that he can offer her a safe house and home. Realizing that she has actually come to love him is a big bonus, one she did not expect. In Gilead John Ames proclaims the love for his wife; in Lila she first has to learn and trust her own feelings and instincts. No longer going from place to place, never working on relationships with people but settling in a tight community where she can trust her neighbours. Lila not being a highly educated woman she expresses herself in small gestures and words. It made the novel more demure, intimate and personal. I loved Lila for its intimacy.