With Lila, the third novel about these families and this town, we understand more clearly the metaphorical nature of the landscape, the era and the history … Told with measured and absorbing elegance, this account of the growing love and trust between Lila and Reverend Ames is touching and convincing. The stages of Lila’s strengthening sense of security are carefully delineated, physical relations and her pregnancy handled with careful tact … Lila is not so much a novel as a meditation on morality and psychology, compelling in its frankness about its truly shocking subject: the damage to the human personality done by poverty, neglect and abandonment.
Few people who have read Gilead will forget Ames’s description of his and Lila’s decision, among the roses, to get married—the speed, the wildness of it—but I hope nobody ever asks me to choose between that and the version that Lila, in Lila, gives of the same event. In her version, she is not in a nice, symbolic garden … Lila is less concerned with race than just with poverty—indeed, starvation—among the migrant workers of the Midwest … Most of the time Robinson’s people aren’t actually starving; they’re just alone. That is the final meaning of her insistence on her characters’ own point of view: because they don’t see the same reality, they are consigned to solitude.
These three exquisite books constitute a trilogy on spiritual redemption unlike anything else in American literature … Lila crawls into Gilead from another world altogether, a realm of subsistence living where the speculations of theologians are as far away — and useless — as the stars … Robinson has constructed this novel in a graceful swirl of time, constantly moving back to Lila and Doll’s struggles with starvation, desperate thieves and vengeful relatives. We see that dark past only intermittently, as a child’s clear but fragmentary memories or a trauma victim’s flashbacks.