Over the last week or so, I’ve been struggling with quite what to write about The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. It’s not really like anything else I have read and yet, in some fundamental way, it’s just like everything I read; really good modern fiction. What makes it different, is that it’s also about faith and although some tales are obliquely religious in nature, this is directly so and that’s what makes it unusual.
I believe I have talked before about A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and how I struggled with it years ago, when I read it. Everyone had told me how incredible it was, how I just had to bear with it because it would all come together at the end. So I did as I was told and I still didn’t connect with the story and yes, it had a good ending, but I felt on balance that I hadn’t enjoyed the experience. As I read The Dearly Beloved, I was reminded in some ways of this experience but, in this instance, I found the ending profoundly moving, tearfully so. I can’t really say that I loved the story or particularly bonded with any of the characters, until about halfway through when something just shifted very slightly. Was it the writing, or the reader? I’m not entirely sure, but that’s how I find myself here – blogging and trying to figure it all out.
The novel follows two couples, Charles and Lily, and James and Nan. Charles and James, both find their faith as young men. Religion was not something that they were born with, rather something that comes to each, leaving them with profoundly different callings. Their wives, Lily and Nan, are two different types of women, a world in part in attitude and demeanor. The couples are thrown together when Charles and James find themselves both recruited to take charge of Third Presbyterian in New York.
I must really point out that you do not have to be religious in any way to enjoy this story. It’s as much about relationships, communication, rearing children and jealousy, as it is about God. What’s different, is that all through, it really does make you think about faith. I am not a religious person, nor was I raised in a religious family, but I have always respected those who are. Over the week I read this book, I did find myself thinking about what it must be like ‘to believe’, to have that support in your life. What does faith really mean and how many different ways are there to achieve that faith?
A thought-provoking read and one you should keep with.