If unfamiliar, the novels revolve around a few people in a small town in Iowa named, Gilead. The plot moves along slowly though is more concerned about the inner workings and relations between the primary characters. Rev. John Ames, well into his old age, is concerned with imparting wisdom to his young son in Gilead. The Boughton family, close friends with Ames, and their family dynamic is explored in Home. And finally, Lila is told from the perspective of Lila as she first meets and marries Ames, much older than herself. In it, Lila thinks back to her upbringing as a drifter and despite being a largely uneducated woman, she thinks deeply.
Lila may come in as my favorite of the three. Something about the title character's simple yet profound take on life had a ring of familiarity despite her life situation being anything but similar to my own. She found it hard to commit to her husband, to be loved by others, to reconcile the depravity of the world with her husband's (a reverend!) belief in an all-loving God. The conversations between Lila and Rev. Ames are just perfect, giving room for doubt and questioning and graciousness for disagreement or, rather, differing perspectives.
As alluded to in the first paragraph, there are a handful of themes and ideas written about oh so beautifully. Here were a few of many of my favorites...
On being married:
"Lila had no particular notion of what the word 'married' meant, except that there was an endless, pleasant joke between them that excluded everybody else and that all the rest of them were welcome to admire" (p. 75).
On considering loved ones who are not baptized:
"Like most people who lived on earth, she [Doll] did not believe and was not baptized. None of Doane's people were among the elect, so far as she knew, except herself, if she could believe it. Maybe their lives had gone on, and some revival preacher somewhere had taken them in hand. But Doll's life ended, and no one had rested his hand on her head, and no one had said a word to her about the waters of regeneration. If there was a stone on her grave, there was no name on it" (p. 97).
And on the movies:
"...at least she always had a movie to think about. And when she was sitting there in the dark, sometimes, when it was crowded, with somebody's arm or knee brushing against hers, she was dreaming some strangers' dream, everybody in there dreaming one dream together. Or they were ghosts all gathered in the dark, watching the world, seeing all the scheming and the murder and having no word to say about it, weeping with the orphans and having nothing to do for them. And then the dancing and the kissing, and all of the ghosts floating there just inches from a huge, beautiful face, to see the joy rise up in it. Like sparrows watching the sun come up, all of them happy at once, no matter that the light had nothing much to do with them" (p. 208).