Lila, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson, is the story of Lila Dahl. It is set primarily in the town of Gilead, which readers are acquainted with from Robinson’s previous novels Gilead and Home. Lila is a nearly feral child, neglected and mistreated by people we assume are family. Her savior is Doll, a woman with a violent past, who takes pity on Lila and cares for her. After Lila is banished to the family’s front porch for complaining, Doll takes Lila and they begin traveling to find work, shelter, and food.
Lila learns hard lessons from Doll’s experiences. Although Doll doesn’t tell Lila everything—like the history of that sharp knife she carries—Lila knows life is hard and no one can be trusted. Doll tells Lila, “You got to look after your own self,” and Lila learns to live on her own, finding shelter, food, and work along the way, vaguely aware of people from her past who could be looking for her.
Lila’s life takes a turn when she arrives in Gilead. When she tells the widowed preacher, John Ames, “You ought to marry me,” she wasn’t quite sure what she was asking for or why. Even after they are married, she doesn’t seem to trust the elderly pastor, despite his acceptance of her—including her failure to attend church regularly, her cursing, or her petty theft from his garden or his clothes before they were married.
Robinson details both Lila’s and Pastor Ames’ introspection and self-discovery as they come to know each other and develop their unusual relationship. They are childlike and open as they learn about themselves, while gently unfolding their past lives, with the pain and memories that come with them.
Lila was a finalist for 2014 National Book Award. It was published in 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.