Book Review: The Dearly Beloved

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.

My Thoughts:

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.”



  1. THE DEARLY BELOVED is a stunningly beautiful book – incredibly thought-provoking and lyrically written. As I read it, I frequently marveled at Wall’s prose and marked numerous passages to go back to in the future.

  2. Thank you for your review.
    Now I am intrigued & will check out this book.
    I, too, am not a religious person.
    I’ve tried to be, & it never really felt true.

    I think Ivy is maturing, & finding out petting is such a wonderful thing! She is less distracted now, than she was as a kitten, and more likely to seek out your touch more often. I bet she will end up being a very affectionate cat! I must confess, I wish she was my kitty! Lucky you!

  3. Sound like an interesting read, Brenda. I think I might enjoy it although I don’t consider myself a “religious person”. I do feel that I have a spiritual side and I explore that in various ways. I will have to see if my library has this new book. Glad you enjoyed it and wrote about it.

  4. Well, Brenda, it is good You are not “religious” because “religion” does not Save You – it does not bring You to God – To His Salvation – Only the Lord Jesus Christ does through His Mercy and His Grace – Through His blood shed for All of God’s Elect – God gives the Faith to believe this through the preaching of His Word, His Truth – That Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God’s Truth – the Bible – God opens His Elect’s minds and their eyes to hear and (see) believe the Truth of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross. It has nothing to do with religion – We are not saved because of what we have done – We are not saved because of what we have not done – We are not saved because we think we are a good person or not – We are saved (reconciled to God) only because Almighty God has shown Mercy to us and given us Grace to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and All that He has done – We cannot earn this Mercy and Grace – We cannot work our way to this Mercy and Grace – This Mercy and Grace are a gift from God through the Lord Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners – As the apostle Paul in the Bible said and so I reiterate, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” 1 Timothy 1:15 🙂 b

    1. PS I must add here, that if anyone thinks they commend themselves to God by keeping His Law, think again. God demands perfection of His Law and none of us can keep His Law perfectly. Only the Lord Jesus Christ kept the Law of God perfectly, in thought, word, and deed. That is why we look to Christ for our Righteousness (our Right standing with God), because “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Romans 10:4 The LORD bless and keep His Elect. 🙂 b

  5. Acorn and Britbox are available from my library to downstream on my ipad. This is thru an app cammed RB. Check that out

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