Beautifully quiet novels can sometimes be the most impactful, as is the case with Cara Wall’s remarkable debut The Dearly Beloved. In the mid-twentieth century, two couples are inextricably linked through the husbands’ co-ministry of New York’s 3rd Presbyterian Church. Their struggles with love, grief, forgiveness, and faith become the foundation to a life bigger and more complicated than any of them could have ever imagined. Without judgment, Wall allows their flaws and graces to shine, reminding us of the importance of personal convictions and the inevitability of change. —Luisa— From Elaine and Luisa's Picks: September - October 2019
September 2019 Indie Next List
“The Dearly Beloved follows two couples as the men navigate the social and personal turbulence of leading a New York City congregation while the women struggle to find their places and define their relationship to each other. This novel grabs you and brings you in deep right from the start. Through decades of war and protest, success and failure, love and loss, we grow to care about each of these complex characters. Along the way, we also get a glimpse into 1960s New York City and the ways place can so irrevocably impact lives. This is a book that will resonate long after you put it down.”
— Lisa Swayze, Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, NY
“This gentle, gorgeously written book may be one of my favorites ever.” —Jenna Bush Hager (A Today show “Read with Jenna” Book Club Selection!)
“A thoughtful, beautiful multigenerational novel about love, God, jealousy, and friendship.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
“A moving portrait of love and friendship set against a backdrop of social change.” —The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“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-)
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.
About the Author
Cara Wall is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and Stanford University. While at Iowa, Cara taught fiction writing in the undergraduate creative writing department as well as at the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio in her capacity of founder and inaugural director. She went on to teach middle school English and History, and has been published by Glamour, Salon, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in New York City with her family.
PRAISE FOR THE DEARLY BELOVED BY CARA WALL
"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