November 11, 2020 8:36 AM EST

Readers of Marilynne Robinson’s previous award-winning Gilead novels already know Jack—the troubled son who left that titular Iowa town, thus abandoning a local woman and their child; a disgrace to his Presbyterian minister father; a charming miscreant. But readers have had to wait until the fourth installment to truly live with him. Here, he’s aging, drinking and self-destructing in postwar St. Louis—and eventually falling in love with a Black school teacher named Della, a fellow poetry lover. Their illicit romance falls in a time of miscegenation laws—allowing the Pulitzer Prize–winning author to return her insightful gaze to the subject of racism, as the two risk themselves for each other.

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