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The Dearly Beloved

The Dearly Beloved

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.

Author: Cara Wall | Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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Rating: 5/5

Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for the advanced review copy of this book! It will be published August 13.

The Dearly Beloved is a masterpiece of literary fiction. There’s not a word out of place. It’s a gorgeous examination of what it means to exist side by side. I was hypnotized, heartbroken from the first page.

There are four characters:

  • Charles, who grew up in an intellectual, university family and finds himself hit with a sudden, visceral calling to become a minister while studying history

  • Lily, whose parents died when she was young, and so she buried herself in a life of risk-free isolation

  • James, whose father dealt with his post-war PTSD by drinking heavily, and who just wants to escape that life for himself

  • Nan, the daughter of a southern minister whose life has come easily, but whose faith and love for other people is strong

The first section follows Charles and Lily, and James and Nan, as they grow up, meet, and start their lives together. Then Charles and James are hired as co-pastors at the same Greenwich Village church, and their lives are irrevocably intertwined. We follow them all the way from childhood to middle age, and beyond.

This is not a book about religion; it’s a book about people whose lives are touched by religion. Charles and Nan believe in God whole-heartedly, James is unsure, and Lily does not believe in God at all. But the way that these characters fit together inside and around these differences in faith, and how they grow through it, is much more the focus than the idea of God itself.

This is also not a book centered on plot. It’s a book centered on the way people fit together like notches, and the way they grind against each other’s sharp edges at the same time. It’s about love between man and wife, man and friend, woman and not-friend, woman and friend, parents and children, people and their God. It’s about what it means to be human, to be a person in the world, one who loves and fears and hopes and cries.

It’s the kind of novel that makes you feel like you need to exhale all the air in your chest.

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