A tale of two Lilas

Last year two of the best books I read both had main characters named Lila. The first was the eponymous novel by Marilynne Robinson, Lila. I found it just as compelling and beguiling as Gilead.

My favorite passage is when Reverend John Ames talks to his skittish new wife:

“Lila,” he said, “I’m glad to know you aren’t planning to leave. But if you ever change your mind, I want you to leave by daylight. I want you to have a train ticket in your hand that will take you right where you want to go, and I want you to take your ring and anything else I have given you. You might want to sell it. That would be alright. You are my wife,” he said. “I want to take care of you, even if that means someday seeing you to the train.”

Lila by Marilynne Robinson


Noah’s Wife

“Looking out at the lake one could believe that the Flood had never ended. If one is lost on the water, any hill is Ararat. And below is always the accumulated past, which vanishes but does not vanish, which perishes and remains. If we imagine that Noah’s wife, when she was old, found somewhere a remnant of the Deluge, she might have walked into it till her widow’s dress floated above her head and the water loosened her plaited hair. And she would have left it to her sons to tell the tedious tale of generations. She was a nameless woman, and so at home among all those who were never found and never missed, who were uncommemorated, whose deaths were not remarked, nor their begettings.”

≈Marilynne Robinson in Housekeeping≈


more from Housekeeping


We know Marilynne Robinson for Gilead and Home, two enchanting novels that read as if they were told during long nights in front of a fire. But 24 years earlier, her first novel, Housekeeping, was published, to great acclaim. It is slow and quiet but in a good way, and much happens in the course of the story: a train wreck and suicide and reclusive hoarding. There is a house that is not particularly well-kept and a down-in-the-mouth town called Fingerbone bisected by train tracks, and a landscape filled with a lake and rimmed with mountains.

We walked north, with the lake on our right hand. If we looked at it, the water seemed spread over half the world. The mountains, grayed and flattened by the distance, looked like remnants of a broken dam, or like the broken lip of an iron pot, just at a simmer, endlessly distilling water into light.

The lake at our feet was plain, clear water, bottomed with smooth stones or simple mud. It was quick with small life, like any pond, as modest in its transformations of the ordinary as any puddle. Only the calm persistence with which the water touched, and touched, and touched, sifting all the little stones, jet, and white, and hazel, forced us to remember that the lake was vast, and in league with the moon (for no sublunar account could be made of its shimmering, cold life).

I read the story in one night by the fire. But I will go back now and savor the sentences.