…Marilynne Robinson”s “The Givenness of Things: Essays,” two-thirds of the way through.
Quit kidding yourself, I said.
I had read and liked and admired and been enlarged by all four of her novels, but this one I could not understand.
It was not just the theology. Her novels had that too.
It was how she chose to write it.
Her novels had, maybe, two four-syllable words per page. “Givenness” had eight. Maybe ten. And some of these I needed a dictionary for. “Prevenient.” “Syncretism.” “Marcianism.”
That’s a lot to ask.
So why did Robinson plant boulders like that along the path to understanding? Is she implying what she wants to say is so arcane it can’t be expressed in plainer words? Is she so unsure about what she is saying that she feels the need to back it with this weight.
No question she believes what she is saying. I just wish she would write it simply and directly, so if I could see if I did.
Some additional theology wouldn’t hurt me.
…Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila,” the most masterful novel I have read in years, profound, deep, moving, insightful, original. It would probably help if you have already read “Gilead” and “Home,” which preceded it in Robinson’s oeuvre; but this is not necessary. Probably it would help if, like Robinson, you were Calvinist; but this isn’t necessary either.
Lila is the woman who appears in “Gilead” seemingly from nowhere. It is her son to whom the letter in “Home” is addressed. (There, I’ve given little away.) Now we have her story. Whether Robinson had some of all of it in mind when she began the trilogy, or whether she decided, Gee, I’d like to figure out where Lila came from, I do not know. Either way the achievement is a remarkable feat of imagination.
Robinson has wrought someone from a devastating past, who has navigated her way through a barely marked, devastating series of “presents,” about which a barely formed but continually forming intelligence seeks understanding and shape but whose completeness remains always in doubt.
Meanwhile we appreciate love, compassion, caring, and the Lord working in mysterious ways.