Marilynne Robinson’s new novel, Lila, has been one of the most anticipated books of the season. Robinson, who was born in Idaho and now teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is a seventy-one-year-old Christian woman. She writes novels that are explicitly religious in a distinctly American way. She has praised John Calvin, the severe proponent of the doctrine of predestination, as a misunderstood Christian humanist. In other words, everything about her flies in the face of what the literati would consider sophisticated, cool, creative, and good, which is why her literary stardom is a particular curiosity.

Robinson broke onto the literary scene in 1980 with her first novel, Housekeeping, about two sisters in the aftermath of their mother’s suicide. She has continued to dazzle readers since. Gilead, published a decade ago, took the form of a letter that the seventy-seven-year-old Reverend John Ames, a pastor...


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