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Opinion | Pop Culture

The Calvinist on the Bestseller List

Marilynne Robinson’s rich, grace-filled prose strikes again.
The Calvinist on the Bestseller List
Image: Brian Ray / AP

Given the dramatic and oft-noted rise of the religious "nones," Marilynne Robinson's sterling reputation and popularity as a novelist and essayist—not merely among Christians, but among critics and readers of every faith and no faith—is something of a surprise. Robinson's rigorous intellect is wedded to a profound appreciation of the human soul; her creative vision takes shape in relation to her Christian faith.

"I have read and loved a lot of literature about religion and religious experience – Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, the Bible," Mark O'Connell writes in The New Yorker, "but it’s only with Robinson that I have actually felt what it must be like to live with a sense of the divine."

Writing for The New York Times recently, Gregory Cowles remarked that it is "both heartening and a little weird" that Robinson's recently released novel, Lila, had made the hardcover fiction bestseller list, her fourth to earn the honor. For Cowles, Robinson's popularity is:

heartening because Robinson’s sentences are so polished and faceted and clear they could bend light; weird because most of her books engage deeply with the thornier aspects of Calvinist theology.

Despite her success, considerations of marketability emphatically do not drive Robinson's writing. Indeed, at a reading at the Free Library of Philadelphia recently, Robinson remarked that she doesn't formulate ...

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