The Dearly Beloved

Written by Cara Wall
Review by Clarissa Harwood

I’m rarely at a loss for words when writing reviews, but this time I’m certain that nothing I write can possibly do this gorgeous novel justice.

The lives of two couples converge in 1960s Greenwich Village when the men are hired to be joint pastors of Third Presbyterian Church. Amid the turbulent political events of the era, they struggle with personal and spiritual crises. Charles, a soft-spoken academic, is a late convert to Christianity, and his wife Lily (my favorite character) is an unapologetic atheist. Fierce, restless James, born in relative poverty to an alcoholic father, decides to become a minister not for spiritual reasons, but to address social ills. His wife, Nan, is a pastor’s daughter with an uncomplicated faith until personal difficulties force her to question her beliefs.

This is a brilliant literary novel. Wall goes deep into the heart of human nature, expressing universal truths in prose that shimmers like the surface of a windless lake. There is much to love even if questions of faith don’t interest you. Wall writes about relationships with spouses, friends, and communities with such wisdom and insight that nearly every paragraph has a quotable sentence. I’ll settle for just one example: “Charles was, indeed, late for his third period every day. That was how every one of his classmates in Intermediate Greek knew he had found the woman he wanted to marry.” These characters were so real that I felt a deep sense of loss when I turned the last page.

Through Charles, Lily, James, and Nan, The Dearly Beloved turns a clear, non-judgmental eye on questions of faith, refusing to offer easy answers. Highly recommended!