The Dearly Beloved
By: Cara Wall
Published: August 13, 2019
From the Cover:
Charles and Lily, James and Nan. They meet in Greenwich Village in 1963 when Charles and James are jointly hired to steward the historic Third Presbyterian Church through turbulent times. Their personal differences however, threaten to tear them apart.
Charles is destined to succeed his father as an esteemed professor of history at Harvard, until an unorthodox lecture about faith leads him to ministry. How then, can he fall in love with Lily—fiercely intellectual, elegantly stern—after she tells him with certainty that she will never believe in God? And yet, how can he not?
James, the youngest son in a hardscrabble Chicago family, spent much of his youth angry at his alcoholic father and avoiding his anxious mother. Nan grew up in Mississippi, the devout and beloved daughter of a minister and a debutante. James’s escape from his desperate circumstances leads him to Nan and, despite his skepticism of hope in all its forms, her gentle, constant faith changes the course of his life.
In The Dearly Beloved, we follow these two couples through decades of love and friendship, jealousy and understanding, forgiveness and commitment. Against the backdrop of turbulent changes facing the city and the church’s congregation, these four forge improbable paths through their evolving relationships, each struggling with uncertainty, heartbreak, and joy. A poignant meditation on faith and reason, marriage and children, and the ways we find meaning in our lives, Cara Wall’s The Dearly Beloved is a gorgeous, wise, and provocative novel that is destined to become a classic.
As someone who was raised Presbyterian and is still very involved in the Presbyterian faith, I was drawn to this book initially by my own faith. However, this book is about more than just faith alone. It is about how to love those who are so different from yourself; how to believe in things that seem so out of reach; how to act on injustice; how to care for those who need it the most.
‘Study does not engender wisdom,’ he continued, his voice stern and challenging. ‘Analysis does not inspire insight.’ He raised his eyebrows, exhorting Charles and his classmates to pay attention. ‘Only empathy allows us to see clearly. Only compassion brings lasting change. I am going to ask you to imagine yourself into the history we read. I am going to ask you to feel it. Because only living it will convince you to stop it from happening again.’
I’ve started to become really interested in the literary fiction genre. These books are like sagas; they cover the entire lives of those involved in a sweeping and contemplative nature. These are the kind of books that make you slow down and think: about yourself, your own life, the ones you hold close, the things you feel and believe. It’s something I feel many of us do not do/are unable to do in this current time.
God answered prayers that helped her help others. God did not change the circumstances of your life; God changed you.
Wall does a fantastic job in examining and writing about the lives of such different and imperfect people. A minister’s wife who doesn’t believe in God. A minister who loses faith. A minister’s wife whose faith is tested. A minister who isn’t convinced God exists. Now put them all together and see what happens. Wall has a way with words and I found myself highlighting multiple parts of this book to keep for myself for later.
I’m not going to tell you this book is exciting and thrilling and is going to keep you on the edge of this seat. It would be a lie. But, it’s also not the way this book was meant to be read. It is meant to be savored, discussed, contemplated, cherished. In fact, it feels a lot like church.
‘Love is the enjoyment of something. the feeling of wanting something deeply, of wanting nothing more. Our love of God is not as important as our faith in God. Love wanes. Faith cannot. One can have faith and anger, faith and hate. One can believe deeply and still rail against God, still blame God. In fact, if one can hate God it is a sign of deep faith, because you cannot hate and at the same time doubt God’s existence.’