The Dearly Beloved summary

The Dearly Beloved summary

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall (Author)

This is a luminous novel from the newly debuted author Cara Wall about two young couples who meet in the middle as their husbands are appointed jobs at the same church. It’s New York City, the 1960s, and they share the role of ministering at a venerable church. The plot goes on to span for decades.

Charles is the husband of Lily, and the couple was in Greenwich Village when they meet James and Nan. The two-man are hired together to look over the historic Church in trying time. Since the first encounter, they know that the time they spend together is not going to be pleasant: their personalities clash so much.

Charles’ father is a famous professor on the subject of History in the esteemed school of Harvard. He was going to follow his father’s career path but ended up mesmerized in religion after an unorthodox lecture about faith. The fate turns again when he meets his wife, whose intellect and sternness charm him, but strongly refuses to believe in God.

James grew up in a difficult situation: his mother suffered from anxiety disorder and his father is an alcoholic. Angry, he escaped from his desperate circumstances to come to Mississippi, only to meet Nan, the devout daughter of a debutante. For the first time in his life, he knows of love and gentleness and is convinced by her constant faith.


The novel leads us along with these two unlikely couples into years of friendship and love, understanding and jealousy, commitment, and forgiveness. On the background of a changing city, the four characters grow along with their relationship, with their own separate set of joy, heartbreak, and uncertainty. Promising to be a classic, this novel is a beautiful read. 

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I grew up in New York City's Greenwich Village and London's South Kensington. As a child I read books, especially biography and historical fiction. Every Friday night, my parents and I spent the evening at the Brentano's bookstore on 8th Street and University Place choosing our books for the weekend. After reading those books in two days, I spent every Monday afternoon in my school's library finding new books, always dismayed that I could only check out two at a time.
I was raised attending The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, which was led by two dignified and august co-pastors. My favorite part of Sunday School was the soft plastic Noah's Ark that was missing the second giraffe. My favorite church activities were the square dance and the Halloween party, but I also took tap dancing and played shuffle board in the church basement. For several months in 1981, my parents and I lived in the sexton's apartment on the fifth floor of the church building, and for several years we managed to survive our church friends' annual whitewater canoe trip on the waterways above Lake George.
I began this book 15 years ago, in the summer of 2004. I was reading my way through Laurie Colwin's books, most of which are about family, marriage, and parenthood. I finished Happy all the Time, which tells the story of two couples through their courtships and early wedded lives. As soon as I closed the book I thought, "I could write a book like that," and Lily Barrett entered my mind's eye fully formed, elegant, guarded, and suspicious. Charles, James, and Nan followed quickly after, and I based their lives in the church I had known as a child. 

I'm often asked why I wrote about ministers, and the answer is fairly simple: because ministers think deeply about life. But, really, the book is about the kind of community in which I grew up: a community of friends committed to one another's wellbeing, interested in each other's lives, joyously celebrating the good times and supporting each other through the bad--a community of people searching for the meaning of life in their relationships with one another.



"The Dearly Beloved is a superb exploration of faith and marriage. Of all the books on this list — maybe this year — it’s the gentlest, a wise and searching story of purpose and passion, spanning decades and filled with empathy." ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY Best Debut Novels of 2019

"God and literary fiction don’t always get along; perhaps that’s why Cara Wall’s The Dearly Beloved, a thoughtful debut that follows the lives of two ministers and their wives, feels so galvanizing. Its four characters get equal voice—Charles, son of a rigid academic; Lily, orphaned as a child; James, born into family hardship; Nan, a well-adjusted minister’s daughter—as they go to college, get married, find their callings, and weather tragedies. Wall’s approach is deceptively quiet and stirringly romantic. Here is the power of the novel in its simplest, richest form: bearing intimate witness to human beings grappling with their faith and falling in love. That Wall executes it so beautifully? Well, this is exactly why we read literary fiction...The best book about faith in recent memory.”ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY (A-)

"Compelling...These human loves are beautifully brought to life in The Dearly Beloved. A moving portrait of love and friendship set against a backdrop of social change."NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW (EDITOR'S CHOICE)

"An unusually assured debut, the book examines faith with revelatory nuance...The beauty of this slow burner will stay with you, religious or not."PEOPLE (BOOK OF THE WEEK)

 “Writing with restrained lyricism, Wall's debut offers a kind of literary chamber music, combining the viewpoints of a quartet of characters across multiple decades and events. Finely drawn and paced and written with intense compassion…A moving, eloquent exploration of faith and its response to the refining fire of life's challenges.”KIRKUS REVIEWS (STARRED REVIEW)

“Finely drawn and written with compassion and care, and every word is precisely chosen...This story will be beloved by book clubs and fans of literary fiction.”LIBRARY JOURNAL (STARRED REVIEW)

"A rare and intellectually stimulating outing...By creating such well-defined characters, [Wall] is able to all the more effectively explore the role of faith, or its lack, in dealing with the pressures of marriage, child-rearing, and work."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"Underlying the very readable, honestly human propulsion of her characters' lives in their near-entirety, Wall does a tricky thing quite well, exploring the facts of faith and love at both their most exalting and most trying."BOOKLIST

"Compelling...a sneakily addictive read."VOGUE

"Wall’s clean prose and easy ability to move between the thoughts of her protagonists turn what could seem an inquiry into the nature of religion into a visceral look at how it binds people together. "VANITY FAIR 

"Compelling and thoughtfully written."CHRISTIAN CENTURY 

"A thoughtful, beautiful multigenerational novel about love, God, jealousy, and friendship." —ELIZABETH GILBERT, AUTHOR OF EAT, PRAY, LOVE

“When I began reading The Dearly Beloved I braced for piety, worried it might be a book only a believer could appreciate. Instead, I found myself carried along by Cara Wall’s luminous prose, and then by these characters and their stories. I saw myself in their doubts, in their hopes. There is no moralizing here, only empathy. When I arrived at the end I felt absolutely lifted by the spirit of the story.”—MARY BETH KEANE, AUTHOR OF ASK AGAIN, YES

“This wonderful book has all the things that are hardest to find in literature: good marriages sustained by abiding love; nourishing friendships that endure trials; nuanced explorations of religious faith; and characters who strive to do good for others while battling their own demons. What it has, in short, is that hardest-won of qualities in a novel: genuine goodness.”—MATTHEW THOMAS, AUTHOR OF WE ARE NOT OURSELVES 

“I am not a Christian—not a religious person in any way—yet the explorations of faith in The Dearly Beloved speak to me on levels of extraordinary emotional depth, and with gut-wrenching meaning. I will cherish this book for a long, long time.”—THISBE NISSEN, AUTHOR OF THE GOOD PEOPLE OF NEW YORK