In her forthcoming novel Lila, she revisits the characters she forged in Gilead – the Reverend John Ames, his second wife Lila and his lifelong friendship with Boughton. In Gilead, Ames wrote to the son he will never see grow up, telling of his life, the death of his first wife and his joy and heartache in finally having a son. The second novel, Home, examines the life of the Boughtons and this chapter, Lila, is of course, Lila’s story.
An itinerant worker, Lila comes to Gilead and decides to stay in a shack she finds uninhabited. She looks for work around the town and eventually her loneliness leads her to overcome her distaste for religion, and one Sunday she puts on her better dress (she only has two) and walks into the church. There she finds the minister “beautiful” and is slowly but inexorably drawn to him. Her appreciation is shown in small ways – she knows not to invest in silly dreams. She visits him out of the blue. She keeps an old soft grey jumper he gives her and curls up to it in the cold of the night. It is a beautiful and touching story of love for those who never felt worthy of it.
Eventually they marry – and while Lila ponders the possible need to move on at times, the discovery that she will bear him a child causes her to confront her past and come to accept the joy she has found in the present.
I haven’t read Home, and you don’t need to read the others in order to appreciate any of these three masterfully written novels. Each creates the distinct internal world of the narrator, and invites you into their innermost feelings. You will not be disappointed, unless you are only interested in plot driven novels. Persevere with this until you find its rhythm.