The characters in this book are 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.
This is not a book I would have normally picked out and read. But it had been on my Kindle for a long time and I clicked on the title and began to read. And was enchanted.
It is the writing. The prose was magnificent, spellbinding. I have never read so many beautiful and eloquent sentences in one book before. As a writer, I was humbled.
I have never been a religious person. I knew that was going to be true from the time I was very young.
One of the two ministers explained that some people are going to believe no matter what. And others are not going to. And no one should try to sway them. For no one is actually wrong about something there is no true proof of.
Instead he thought people should just accept one another, regardless of beliefs.
I’ve known people who are fiercely religious and could not exclude it from discussion. I have avoided that kind of individual, because, as the minister was right to explain, no one will sway what we truly believe. And I resented anyone trying to push their religion on me.
I raised my daughters to keep an open mind until they were grown. At which time they could choose for themselves what to believe. My older daughter is not a church goer; my youngest one is.
As a first time novelist, I’d say this author had a most auspicious beginning with this memorable book.
About The Author:
Cara Wall is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and Stanford University. While at Iowa, Cara taught fiction writing in the undergraduate creative writing department as well as at the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio in her capacity of founder and inaugural director.
She went on to teach middle school English and history and has been published by Glamour, Salon, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in New York City with her family and The Dearly Beloved is her first novel.
Just like the people of James’s and Charles’s church, Wall wasn’t “interested in the trappings of religion” when writing her novel. What she really aimed to get at was the “hard work that it takes to become truly empathetic.”
“We talk a lot about empathy now in a way that we weren’t when I started the book,” Wall says. “Sometimes we talk about it as you have to have empathy for people, without really talking about how hard that is—and how worth it it is. You can accept someone else without diminishing yourself. It’s not a sacrifice to accept somebody else.”