Friday, November 15, 2019

Book Review: "The Dearly Beloved" by Cara Wall

This one sneaks up on you with its gorgeous, contemplative story which grabs hold of your mind and your heart. Wow, how I loved this!

"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."

James and Charles meet in 1963 when they are both interviewing to become the minister of an historic church in Greenwich Village. They couldn’t be more opposite from one another—Charles views his call as one to guide his congregation, to support them and help them understand events of the world, while James views his as a call to action, that God is served by changing the world.

The two are hired as co-ministers, which seems to suit them fine, and they become immensely close. The same cannot be said of their wives. James’ wife, Nan, a minister’s daughter, understands the role of the church in their lives, while Lily, Charles’ wife, has a definitive lack of faith shaped by a childhood tragedy that causes her to withdraw, even resent at times, the life her husband has been called to. Nan immerses herself in the church, Lily wants as far away from it as possible.

The Dearly Beloved follows the four through decades of friendship, love, loyalty, resentment, jealousy, and of course, faith. The challenges of the world, the tragedies and triumphs of their own lives will test and reaffirm their faith through the years.

This book was simply amazing. I cannot believe that this is Wall’s debut novel. It’s not a book that requires any knowledge of religion or faith—it’s more an exploration of how faith means different things to different people, and how it appears and disappears at different times in our lives.

James and Charles are the easier characters to embrace. I found Nan and Lily difficult to like for a while, until I understood their place in the story and realized the complexities Wall bestowed upon her characters.

I honestly think this is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s one of those that feels like the "great American novel," just a triumph of storytelling. That's something I don’t find too often these days.

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