Farrar. Sept. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9780374279301. $27.
This new work is a prequel to Robinson’s Pulitzer-winning Gilead, but one needn’t have read the previous novel to appreciate or enjoy it. It follows Jack Boughton, a white drifter, occasional thief, and alcoholic, and his romance with Della Miles, a respectable Black schoolteacher. Although their circumstances (not to mention the law) should keep them apart in St. Louis before the civil rights era, they are drawn to each other based on their shared experience as “preacher’s kids” and their love of poetry. After a brief prolog, the novel opens with a lengthy account of a night the two spend in a cemetery talking about life and faith. This helps the reader recognize Jack and Della as soulmates before fully understanding the circumstances of their acquaintance or knowing the extent of Jack’s past misdeeds. Against Jack’s better judgment and despite considerable pressure from Della’s family and a Baptist minister he befriends, Jack is unable to remove himself from Della’s life, and her unwavering faith in him leads to a kind of redemption.
VERDICT Robinson fans will be hungry for the next chapter in the Gilead saga, and the beauty and humanity of Robinson’s prose will win over new fans. Highly recommended.

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