Summary and book reviews of The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

The Dearly Beloved

by Cara Wall

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall X
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
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  • Published:
    Aug 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

A luminous debut novel about two young couples whose lives become intertwined when the husbands are appointed co-ministers of a venerable New York City church in the 1960s, spanning decades - for readers of Ann Patchett and Nicole Krauss.

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.

ONE

On both his mother's and his father's side, Charles Barrett was descended from old Boston families. His father was the head of the Classics Department at Harvard, where he taught seminars on the Romans and Greeks.

"Societies fail," his father told the freshmen year after year, "when men are rewarded for seeking pleasure instead of responsibility." His tweed jackets rasped as he cracked notes on the blackboard; his comments on papers, written in gaunt handwriting in deep blue ink, were direct and critical. At the dinner table, just before pushing back his chair to retire to his study, he often said, "Obligations are the fuel of life, Charles. Reputation is their reward."

Their shingled, sharp-roofed Victorian house was painted grey with brown shutters. Inside it was stern, angular, and choked with books, each chosen deliberately: a collection of translation, biography, and historical analysis his father would one day bequeath to the library—a legacy of ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

One of those rare novels that gives pause, prompting one to think about the issues it presents rather than just reading solely for pleasure. Wall’s writing is stellar, as is her character development...Book groups in particular will find this one well worth their time...continued

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
[A] rare and intellectually stimulating outing.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A moving, eloquent exploration of faith and its response to the refining fire of life's challenges.

Author Blurb Matthew Thomas, author of We Are Not Ourselves
Wall has stared into the abyss of real life and come out with energy, hope, and a story suffused in light. We say of books that they are unputdownable; this is a book that you have to put down for a spell in order to take in all the generosity it offers; a book in which it is impossible not to wonder what comes next in these four intertwined and gorgeously observed lives

Author Blurb Mary Beth Keane, author of Ask Again, Yes
An expansive narrative that draws in fifty years and two marriages, this is a novel to settle in with, to read slowly. It asks the biggest question: where can each of us find meaning in this life? There is no moralizing here, only empathy. When I arrived at the end I felt absolutely lifted by the spirit of the story.

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Beyond the Book

The History of Presbyterianism

Church Two of the main characters in Cara Wall's debut novel, The Dearly Beloved, are ministers in the Presbyterian Church. The novel focuses on the turbulence the Church faced in America during the social upheaval of the 1960s, but the roots of Presbyterianism, as a Protestant denomination, can be traced back to sixteenth-century Europe.

On October 31, 1517, an impassioned Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted an inflammatory document that has become known as the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The widely influential theses called into question many of the Roman Catholic Church's doctrines, particularly its practice of granting indulgences to the wealthy, allowing them to be expunged...

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