”I have spent my life watching, not to see beyond the world, merely to see, great mystery, what is plainly before my eyes. I think the concept of transcendence is based on a misreading of creation. With all respect to heaven, the scene of the miracle is here, among us. The eternal as an idea is much less preposterous than time, and this very fact should seize our attention.”
Marilynn Robinson, with ‘her quiet brilliance’ writes about a ‘ profound consideration of a life, without any fanfare’ in ‘Lila’, the third book narrating the voice of John Ames wife.
The author introduced us to the small American town of Gilead in her second novel which was a resounding success following up from a novel ‘Housekeeping’ written two decades earlier and earning her a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The recurrent message that the author communicates is complicated, as is life. It is hopeless, and full of hope. A paradox that is biblical in its incomprehensiveness. That kind of sums up her writing and the reason it works so luminously. It is a mirror to our own experience, that life can be simultaneously filled with horror, trauma, insignificance, hope and joy. The overwhelming sense the reader comes away with is one of recognition wherever and whenever that reader happened to live.
Lila illustrates what Robinson described in ‘Home’ as humanity’s “odd capacity for destitution,” “as if we are shockingly unclothed when we lack the complacencies of ordinary life. In destitution, even of feeling or purpose, a human being is more hauntingly human.” We can only ask “how the soul could be put at ease, restored. At home. But the soul finds its own home if it ever has a home at all.”
All three novels present loneliness as the human condition, suggesting that if our imprisonment within our own perspectives tempts us toward judgmentalism, then compassion is the best palliative.
John Ames in ‘Gilead’ is a man in search of wisdom from the story of his own life’. Robinson’s treatment of her characters is compassionate, and that is the imperative of life that this reader shares with the author – the hope that in despair and suffering, the miracle of being human saves us – redeems us, even if redemption we need is from our own fears and natures themselves.
One of the joys in reading her books comes from that ‘quiet brilliance’ that can narrate the ordinary, the slow, the mundane in such a way that life becomes more meaningful for it’s lack of ‘bling’, and not less. The lack of sensationalism somehow underlines the sensibilities that accompany most of us in coming to terms with living ordinary lives. What I seem to value are those qualities that carry us through the tedium of a job, the trials of parenting, the petty dramas of relating to those closest to us – that soul search that impels us to be better, kinder, more loving human beings. I think these books carry that message too. Read them if you havn’t, read them again if you have. Let me know if the world seemed different or not.