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The Dearly Beloved

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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.

The Dearly Beloved follows 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. It's a poignant meditation on faith and reason, marriage and children, and the ways we find meaning in our lives.

342 pages, Hardcover

First published August 13, 2019

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About the author

Cara Wall

2 books462 followers
Cara Wall is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and Stanford University. While at Iowa, Wall 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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,549 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
August 8, 2019
A tremendously well done first novel. Two couples whose lives will become entwined for better and worse. Charles, whose faith in God is all inclusive and Lily his wife who after the loss of her parents, no longer believes. Jan, a pastors daughter, whose faith is the mainstay of her life, and her husband James, who wants to change things, so becomes a pastor for this purpose. One church, two pastors.

This is not a subject I'm usually drawn to, liturgical matters and this is a subject that is front and center. It is the struggles of these four very different people that for me was the draw, characters that one finds real and honest. How they change with the very real trials and tribulations of life. Marriage, Parenthood, community needs, pastoral services, friendship and adjustments. The character I had the hardest time accepting, Lily, would prove to be the strongest and by books end one I greatly admired.

Their are moments of joy, moments of sadness. The writing is mature, the subject matter including autism, ones faith, doubt and hopes are all gently explored. In fact that is the feel of this book, a gentleness in the portrayal of flawed individuals who learn through time to make the many adjustments life often asks of us.

ARC from Simon and Schuster.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
November 22, 2019
This one sneaks up on you with its gorgeous, contemplative story which grabs hold of your mind and your heart. Wow, how I loved this!

"Love is the enjoyment of something. The feeling of wanting something deeply, of wanting nothing more. Our love of God is not as important as our faith in God. Love wanes. Faith cannot. One can have faith and anger, faith and hate. One can believe deeply and still rail against God, still blame God. In fact, if one can hate God it is a sign of deep faith because you cannot hate and at the same time doubt God's existence."

James and Charles meet in 1963 when they are both interviewing to become the minister of an historic church in Greenwich Village. They couldn’t be more opposite from one another—Charles views his call as one to guide his congregation, to support them and help them understand events of the world, while James views his as a call to action, that God is served by changing the world.

The two are hired as co-ministers, which seems to suit them fine, and they become immensely close. The same cannot be said of their wives. James’ wife, Nan, a minister’s daughter, understands the role of the church in their lives, while Lily, Charles’ wife, has a definitive lack of faith shaped by a childhood tragedy that causes her to withdraw, even resent at times, the life her husband has been called to. Nan immerses herself in the church, Lily wants as far away from it as possible.

The Dearly Beloved follows the four through decades of friendship, love, loyalty, resentment, jealousy, and of course, faith. The challenges of the world, the tragedies and triumphs of their own lives will test and reaffirm their faith through the years.

This book was simply amazing. I cannot believe that this is Wall’s debut novel. It’s not a book that requires any knowledge of religion or faith—it’s more an exploration of how faith means different things to different people, and how it appears and disappears at different times in our lives.

James and Charles are the easier characters to embrace. I found Nan and Lily difficult to like for a while, until I understood their place in the story and realized the complexities Wall bestowed upon her characters.

I honestly think this is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s one of those that feels like the "great American novel," just a triumph of storytelling. That's something I don’t find too often these days.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

You can follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,030 reviews2,542 followers
December 9, 2019

This novel tackles several questions that engage me. What possesses someone to be called to the ministry? Can a couple with opposite beliefs find happiness?

We meet Charles and Lily, James and Nan, two ministers and their wives. We are provided their backgrounds so that we get a true sense of what has molded them into the people they are. They’re not at all similar, which makes it even more interesting as they work to find ways to work together. It’s a book about relationships- between spouses, families, co-workers. It’s about what we share with others and how much of us they can really understand.

The writing here is so lush, it is meant to be savored. It seems so polished it’s hard to realize this is a debut novel. It’s got to be really hard to write about religion and why/how people believe and make the reader understand. Wall does it. Now, I consider myself religious and this book really resonated with me. I loved the points made about faith vs. love, about what faith provided to those that believed, about how we are tested and how our faith holds up (or doesn’t).

Because I had recommended this for my church’s book club, I found two interviews with Wall. She states that the book is about faith, not religion, and the work it takes to become empathetic. “It’s more a raw, honest examination of the way we overcome our differences… We talk a lot about empathy...without really talking about how hard that is - and how worth it it is. You can accept someone without diminishing yourself. It’s not a sacrifice to accept somebody else.”

I’m also so glad the book was written in an omniscient point of view so that we know exactly what each of the characters is thinking. It would never have worked to have their beliefs filtered through another character’s perceptions.

I’d be willing to bet that each reader will have a favorite character. Mine was Charles. I loved his faith, his hope, his charity. I felt his pain and loved the lessons he learned.

Ok, guess I’ve gushed enough. You can certainly see how much I loved this book. Another of my favorite books of 2019.

Profile Image for Meredith (Slowly Catching Up).
794 reviews12.4k followers
August 7, 2020
"He...loved them not with the automatic love of childhood or the easy love of coincidence, but with the tautly stitched love of people who have faced uncertainty together..."

3.75 stars

The Dearly Beloved is a character study about friendship, family, and faith.

Charles and Lily. James and Nan. 2 couples brought together through the ministry of the Third Presbyterian Church in NYC in the 1960s. Their journey to the church, and with one another, has its ups and downs, but in the end, they are united by love.

The book’s main theme focuses on faith: Finding faith, lacking faith, and losing one’s faith. It does not focus on religion much, rather the focus is on faith and believing in a higher power. The narrative is not preachy, but it does have a strong message about faith and love.

The narrative begins in the 1950s. Chapters alternate between all four characters. Each character has a distinctive voice and a different relationship with faith and God. Charles finds God while in college. James continuously grapples with his faith and belief in God but finds his way to the Church intending to help others. Nan has an unwavering belief in God, while Lily is a non-believer. Of all the characters, I found Lily to be the most interesting and complex.

I loved the beginning, but the middle fizzled out. Towards the end, I fell back into the story.

While I enjoyed Cara Wall’s writing style, the pacing is a little uneven and some events happen a little too easily. The first half of the book focuses on each character separately, then moves to when they become couples, to when they become a group.

The characters overcome a lot of struggles and have to jump over many hurdles along the way. Some of these struggles are oversimplified and glossed over. It would have helped me believe more if I could have seen the blood, sweat, tears, and rejections that come along with these endeavors vs. everything being neatly wrapped up.

However, I enjoyed seeing these characters develop, watching their relationships blossom and grow, as well as uniting during difficult times. When I finished reading, I felt like the book was incomplete, but then I came to the realization that the story ends when the four characters are united as one.

I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book in a GoodReads Giveaway!
Profile Image for JanB .
1,146 reviews2,480 followers
October 14, 2019
4.5 stars

Beginning in the 1960s, one of my favorite time periods, this is a story somewhat reminiscent of Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. We follow two couples for many decades: Charles and James who co-pastor a church, and their wives, Lily and Nan.

Charles is the deep thinker, the pastor whose strength is counseling parishioners who are struggling with difficulties. James is the activist who believes his job is to stir the parishioners into action to right the world’s injustices.

Lily is the atheist wife who is non-traditional and has zero interest in being friends with Nan or becoming involved in the life of the parish. Nan is the woman of faith who is a do-gooder and is perfectly content being a traditional pastor’s wife who longs for nothing more than to be a wife and mother. These two women personify the changing role of women through the turbulent 1960s.

But what happens when life doesn’t quite work out as you expected? Life and relationships are messy. Tragedy and losses occur. This character-driven novel doesn’t offer easy solutions but thoughtfully examines the complexities of life, and how our beliefs, life experiences, and background affects the way we relate to others, and how we weather the storms of life. Who has grit, and why?

This story is beautifully written and gives the reader much to ponder. The characters are realistically complex and my feelings changed about each of them as I read.

This was a buddy read with Marialyce and is definitely one of our better discussion books. We had many thoughtful conversations and I’m so glad I had her to talk with as we read.

The last 20% was a tad too pat and predictable, thus the 4.5 stars. For a debut it was amazing and I’m looking forward to seeing what the author does next.

*i received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

* For our duo review of this book https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
488 reviews1,367 followers
August 18, 2020
Do you believe in God? And if so, how do you envision him? Has your faith been tested?

2 ministers and their wives lives become intertwined when they both get a position ministering in the same church in NYC. We learn of individual challenges they each have had and where faith fits in or doesn’t. Their lives take a dramatic turn when a child is born very different from his twin.

This one hit home - hard. My parents were very hardcore believers. They adopted my younger brother at 6 months to complete the 4 sibling clan. When my brother started missing the milestones, a test of their faith and their marriage began.

This one gets 4.5⭐️because it was so relatable. And as much as my faith has waned, this story has given me pause and cause, to consider how it fits into my life again. Faith comes in many forms - not just the traditional ones.

Profile Image for Natalie Erwin.
65 reviews7 followers
September 28, 2019
I know I’m the minority for this rating, but this book did not speak to me. I went into it with such high hopes because of the glowing reviews and I had heard from others. I did not feel connected in anyway to the 4 main characters, I thought they were all very flat. I would have not finished this but was too far into to give up.

I did not feel the premise of the novel was realistic at all. The marriage between Charles and Lilly seemed forced. I cannot believe that a man called to preach could marry an atheist...and then James not fully believing in God but joining the ministry because he felt there was more to life and he wanted to find it? I felt it just floated from year to year without any real substance.

Anyway, this book just wasn’t for me, but I am glad others have found joy from it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Libby.
583 reviews157 followers
October 10, 2020
4+ stars - Well written novel that tackles issues of faith. I really enjoyed getting to know Cara Wall’s flawed characters, their struggles and redemptive qualities. Charles receives that mysterious thing known as ‘a call’ to the ministry. His father is a professor at Harvard. Charles is endowed with intellectual curiosity, perhaps due to his rearing in the world of academia, and he is also skilled with writing and research. But here, is this touch of mystery. This calling.

The atmosphere of James’s growing up years are soaked in the disappointment of his father’s addiction to alcohol. Having served in the Second World War, James’s father joins a community of men who’ve seen and experienced pain and suffering. James has a fear of ending up like his Dad. When James decides to go into the ministry, it is not because of a call. James wants to make a difference in the world; he wants to help lift people out of bad situations.

Lily is a tragic character. Her parents die when she is a teenager and grief settles into her body cell by cell. Lily is also attracted to academia, loves books, but people not so much. She doesn’t believe in God at all. Charles is persistent when it comes to wooing Lily. Can a woman who doesn’t believe in God be a minister’s wife? I used to attend church quite regularly but never knew or even heard of an unbelieving minister’s wife. As prickly as Lily’s character was, I liked getting to know her. I liked her spunk and independence and I respected how forthright she was with Charles.

Nan is the daughter of a minister, who took her with him to visit the sick at hospital and home. Nan has been groomed for the role of minister’s wife, but still, there are things about it for which she was never adequately prepared. Things have always come easily to Nan. When heartbreaks arrive, does she have enough in her arsenal to withstand?

This was never a preachy book, so was a big hit for me. Some days I feel like a strong person of faith, other days agnostic, and other days, even atheistic, so I appreciated the honesty of these characters. The first part of the book is a rather long introduction to the characters while the second part will bring all of them together in 1963 when Charles and James are selected to co-pastor the Third Presbyterian Church. The author has a very fluid writing style that I found satisfying and immersive. I felt there was a little something lacking with her ending, possibly a little cut short, but do not let that deter you if you have any interest in questions of faith. I am not entirely rekindled, but a match of interest and inquiry burns bright.
Profile Image for Marialyce .
1,983 reviews716 followers
October 14, 2019
4.5 stars

“Because only in the quality of your struggle with one another will you learn anything about yourself.”

There are some books that make you think for a moment or two and then those thoughts run off forgotten as they become just another book read. There are some books, however, that keep you thinking and wondering for days, weeks, or even months after you have finished reading them. Such was this story.

This is a story of four people, three of which are people of faith, while one is a non believer. Charles and James are new ministers landing a position at the same church, who together with their wives Nan and Lily try to forge forward in a religious life for the three of them, and a life bereft of God for one of them. Nan is an affirmed believer in God while Lily, the product of the early tragic death of her parents, is a nonbeliever. The dilemma seems to be how can one reconcile being married to a minister when you do not believe in what he does? There is a large amount of interplay between the characters and as the story continues the tragedies of life invade the marriages and one would think a faith in the almighty would be enough to carry one through. But is it?

This story had currents swirling beneath the surface of its words. So many themes were touched upon and the reader was left to understand and find their own explanation of events and happenings. So many questions were asked of the reader. Can one be married to someone who doesn't share your religious belief. Is God the only way to peace in life? Is it possible to be too good, to mask your feelings in an attempt to please God? Is tragedy in life a way that God shows you a way through it, or is it the human spirit, often resilient that offers one peace and a way forward? Can marriage work when up against adversity? What really attracts one person to another even though they are as different as night and day?

This was a wonderful book that had great components and would be absolutely perfect for a book club discussion group. There was much to fathom here, and much to ponder as you read about the journey these two couples embarked upon as they tried to both understand their position in the world and the way forward in life. I definitely recommend this story for all the aforementioned reasons.
Thank you to Cara Wall, Simon and Schuster, and NetGalley for a copy of this book.
A book that sparks talk and makes people want to discuss all its points and nuances, is one that is a trip to the world of reading and loving what an author's words can do to a story. In this book, Jan and I had quite a few talks that led to other talks, and then to more of the same. We both came away pretty much in awe of the feelings that this book evoked in the both of us.
To see our duo reviews: http://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpress...
Profile Image for Kaytee Cobb.
1,858 reviews370 followers
October 6, 2019
The way people described this as beautiful and character driven, I was almost sure it wouldn't be for me. That I would find it a slog, and be bored. But instead, I find myself bereft at it being over. I'd describe this as glimpses of love and life and friendship and God. The writing is amazing and I took photos of multiple passages. The people are real and flawed and phenomenal. So, instead of an unpopular opinion, like I thought I would have, I'm joining my voice with the chorus. James and Nan and Lily and Charles will stay with me, for a long time.
Profile Image for Erin.
599 reviews8 followers
July 4, 2019
Wall's debut novel follows the story of two pastors and their wives - how they meet, how their 'calling' to preach comes about, and how they work together to serve their church community. I liked the premise of two very different men joining together in faith to support their wives and their churchgoers. However, this novel fell really flat for me. It seemed like there were way too many conversations about believing in God and not believing in God. Instead of an interesting dissection of faith and religion, it felt like the same prose repeated over and over. I also felt like the setting of the novel (1960's New York) could have lent itself to way more action in the plot - the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War are only sort of mentioned in passing. Finally, I feel like the focus of the novel should have been shifted to cover more of the pastors adult years (less on their college years and early adulthood). The relationship and family struggles of these men were the most interesting to me, and just when this was getting explored, the novel ended. I feel like Wall has a gorgeous style of writing, but I wished for a plot with more remarkable events or turns in the story to keep things interesting.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews290 followers
January 3, 2020
4.5 stars A great book to kick start my 2020 book challenge. This book was wonderful in that it creeps into your thoughts as you get to know the characters better, it would be easy to dismiss this book due to it’s themes of god and religion but that was the power of this book, the different perspectives and the humanity of the characters making for a real and thought provoking read. The fact that these characters end up being bound together with all their personal differences individually grappling with ideas of belief and faith all while navigating the complexities of everyday life’s challenges and obstacles made for an unique and interesting read.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,342 reviews700 followers
January 7, 2020
I listened to the Audible production of “Dearly Beloved” narrated by Kathy Keane. I enjoyed every second listening to this story. Keane’s range of character voices adds to the story, which is important since there are four main characters, each with their own personalities and thereby voice inflections. The narrator makes all the difference in audio productions.

“Dearly Beloved” is a story of love, marriage, friendship, and connections. Author Cara Wall begins her story introducing the main characters individually, before anyone met. She starts off with the couples: There is Charles and then Lily; James and Nan. Charles is the only child of an academic who becomes interested in God after a University course entitled “Martyrs and Their Murderers”. He becomes steadfastly in love with Lily whom he meets in the Library. At the tender age of 15, Lily lost both her parents in a tragic car accident. This event defines Lily who is determined to never love or need a person. Both are intellectual, and Lily finally agrees to marry Charles if he understands she will always be agnostic, and she may never truly love him. Charles agrees, as long as she allows his faith. It is here that author Wall shines, as her interest is developing characters who find each other and commit to marriage despite their differences.

James comes from a poor Irish family with an alcoholic father. James has a wealthy uncle who financially helps James out of his squalor and pays for James’ college education. Because of this opportunity, James is a serious student giving little time for fun in school. After his uncle counsels James that college is more than academia, James notices Nan at a music recital. Nan is a daughter of a wealthy family from Mississippi. Nan has been pampered all her life and because of this, she has an abundance of love to give. James is “called” to the ministry with the help, love, and guidance of Nan.

The two couple meet when there is a Parish opening in Greenwich, NY. This is where Wall lost me, in that the Parish hires both men because they have differing qualities that the Parish needs. Perhaps there are many cash wealthy Parish’s in Wall’s life that could support two Ministers. I found that highly unlikely. But if one allows this, the story works.

Wall explores the differing marriages, but also friendship and devotion. The wives are not close but tolerate each other. The men enjoy their differences and love working together. When one of the men get into a bit of trouble with the parishioners, they band together and work it through. Family issues arise, and the women work through it differently than the men.

I enjoyed the story because it is a bit of a domestic fiction story along with friendship. Plus, I do love those stories that explore the mysteries of marriage. Apparently, it took Wall 15 years to write this wonderful story. I hope she doesn’t take that long to write another!

Profile Image for Gabril.
733 reviews163 followers
May 18, 2022
La storia inizia con un prologo: vi si annuncia la morte di Charles e il cordoglio singhiozzante di James. Entrambi ministri del culto, insieme hanno guidato per molti anni la Terza Chiesa Presbiteriana nel Greenwich Village, a New York. Erano gli anni Sessanta quando Charles e James si sono incontrati. Il loro sodalizio e la loro amicizia cominciano sul campo, quando entrambi devono risollevare le sorti di una chiesa profondamente in crisi. La loro evidente diversità diventa ben presto alleanza, mentre imparano a conoscersi, sostenersi, accettarsi e volersi bene.

Molte trasformazioni sono in atto, negli Stati Uniti e nel mondo. Sono tutte nello sfondo a incorniciare la storia personale, intima e sociale dei quattro protagonisti di questo straordinario romanzo. Perché accanto ai due ministri ci sono le loro amatissime compagne, il cui ruolo e la cui storia sono altrettanto fondamentali: l’incantevole, devota Nan, moglie di James e l’ombrosa, affascinante Lily, moglie di Charles.
Con eleganza, sicurezza, e crescente intensità Cara Wall sa condurci nella parabola esistenziale di ciascuno di loro, ci consente di esplorare le loro differenze, conoscerne il dolore, le speranze e immaginare la possibile evoluzione dei loro tratti caratteriali.

L’amore coniugale, l’amicizia, la fede, la genitorialità sono i temi principali. Ma più ancora, più oltre e profondamente, è la vita che incontriamo qui, pagina dopo pagina.

La vita così unica, così sorprendente, la vita a volte così devastante. La vita con tutte le sue domande: come ci poniamo davanti all’eredità che le nostre famiglie di origine ci trasmettono?
Come riusciamo a riconoscere le nostre attitudini, la nostra vocazione, a scorgere le nostre possibilità, a superare gli ostacoli che siamo destinati a incontrare dentro e fuori di noi?

E poi: di che cosa sono fatte le relazioni? Quando possono dirsi vere? In che modo diamo loro la possibilità crescere, evolversi, maturare, trasformarci in ciò che siamo, che vogliamo essere e finanche in ciò che mai immagineremmo di poter diventare?
E davanti alla sofferenza come siamo, che cosa facciamo? Quando siamo chiusi nel riccio spinoso di un dolore incomprensibile perfino a noi stessi siamo ancora capaci di comunicare, di lasciarci aiutare, di cogliere l’opportunità che l’altro ci offre per rompere il nostro guscio e scoprire quale frutto si cela oltre la dura scorza dell’isolamento? Siamo capaci, infine, di sentirci veramente connessi agli altri rispettando le loro, le nostre differenze?

Tutti i personaggi qui raccontano qualcosa di noi.
Ci portano nel territorio dell’introspezione con il fascino e la delicatezza di una penna squisita e intensa. Un romanzo che ha il passo misurato di un classico e la sua abbagliante, meditata semplicità.
Profile Image for Robin.
1,434 reviews36 followers
April 9, 2019
This is a stunning debut novel taking place in the 1950s and 1960s featuring Charles, who has a steadfast belief in God; his wife Lily, resolute in her non-belief; James, who joins the ministry to do worldly good; and his wife Nan, devout and sweet. Their lives become entangled when Charles and James are hired as co-pastors at a New York City Presbyterian church, and over the years struggle through faith and beliefs, and marriage and friendship conflicts.
I don’t often gravitate towards books with religious themes, but the author's writing was so engaging, and she was so fair in presenting both sides without judgment or bias toward any belief system that I didn't want to stop reading about these people and their church families. It also had a satisfying epilogue. And yes, a few tissues were needed to get through the last few chapters. This fabulous novel is an easy choice for my best books of 2019 list.

This is a perfect selection for book groups as there is something for everyone to love with much fodder for discussion. It is very reminiscent of Wallace Stegner’s "Crossing to Safety" and also reminded me of Susanna Daniel’s "Stiltsville," both excellent portrayals of long marriages. I would also recommend this to fans of Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Strout.

4-9-19 - Updated information: I just found the original letter sent by the publisher that states Cara Wall spent more than 15 years writing this book and based it on 1st Presbyterian church in NYC, of which she is a long-time member.

Thanks to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for the early galley copy (publication date August 2019).
Profile Image for Theresa.
228 reviews140 followers
August 4, 2019
This is a strong debut by Cara Wall. She can definitely write. Her metaphors are beautiful, and her characters are multi-dimensional and complex. This book felt relevant even though the story takes place in the '50s and '60s. Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and The Vietnam War, "The Dearly Beloved" follows two married couples, Charles and Lily, and James and Nan. In the beginning chapters, we are given a rich and rewarding backstory for each character separately, from their childhoods, to their years at university, and to each couple meeting and falling in love.

The main focus of this novel deals with religion, but it never feels preachy or wishy-washy. Charles and James are asked to co-minister the Third Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village in 1963. Even though the two men come from different backgrounds, they share a love of helping people. The unlikely pair become fast friends. As for Lily and Nan, well that's a different story. For some readers, you might have a strong dislike for Lily. Even though she's married to a minister, she is an atheist. She suffered a traumatic childhood (her parents died in a car crash when she was 15). Lily is a non-believer and makes no apologies for it. Nan is the opposite of Lily. She had a perfect childhood and Lily is quick to judge Nan for that. Lily goes to great lengths to protect herself from getting hurt again. She keeps love and friendship at bay. Towards the end of the novel, Lily becomes a much more sensitive and vulnerable individual once she becomes a mother. I really liked her point-of-the view the best even though she's not warm and fuzzy. She seemed the most self-aware.

I really liked this novel. I don't think it was perfect though. I can't really pinpoint what left me wanting more but overall, this story took me places I wasn't expecting to go. Halfway through the novel, Charles begins to question his faith, and this is when the story really came alive for me. Even though he is a man of God and conviction, he is left with uncertainty and hopelessness. I think he is the character readers are most going to relate to and root for. He is the heart and soul of this novel.

Thank you, Simon & Schuster for sending me a free ARC, in exchange for an honest review.

Release date: August 13, 2019.
Profile Image for Scott.
1,750 reviews124 followers
October 14, 2020
"'We want,' the new search committee wrote, 'a minister with the highest academic credentials, who struggles with the incongruity of faith in the modern world. We want a minister who looks for answers in a dignified way. We are not interested in the trappings of religion, only in the deep, incisive examination of Christian principles and the way we may apply them to our lives.'" -- page 144

Two distinctly different men who have answered 'the calling' to be pastors apply for the above-mentioned position - at the Third Presbyterian Church in New York City's Greenwich Village, circa 1963 - in author Cara Wall's assured and excellent debut as a novelist. Charles and James have differing personalities, shaped by their respective backgrounds - Charles being the well-educated son of upper-class Ivy League academia, while James is a progressive-minded lad from a rough-and-tumble working class family outside of Chicago. Their faith and desire to serve is completely sincere, so they are both hired to lead the troubled church during a very transitional time in U.S. history.

However, The Dearly Beloved is about a quartet of personalities, and the other two main and equally-important characters are wives of the men - Nan is a devout and pleasant Southern lass who seeks some excitement away from her small hometown so she marries the wily James, while serious and scholarly Lily - orphaned as a child when her folks were killed in a car crash - does not particularly adhere to organized religion but otherwise respects Charles' mind, education and job dedication.

Said characters are followed from their respective WWII-era childhoods through their college years in the early 50's and up to the experiences of Charles and James as the TPC's clergy from the mid- to late 60's. Surprisingly, the storyline does not get overloaded with nostalgia but simply focuses on said quartet as they each experience life as young working adults, with the usual but yet relatable problems that are often associated with marriage, parenthood, and/or employment. While not an innocuous or toothless book, it is refreshingly free of any gratuitous sex, violence or harsh language yet is very effective like a really involving or well-executed network-TV miniseries from the 70's or 80's. Other than some of the plot threads clicking just a little too conveniently into place in the final chapters, The Dearly Beloved both continuously kept my interest AND made me think about and appreciate my own Christian faith. When was the last time a fictional book did the same for you?
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,692 reviews452 followers
November 2, 2021
Four very different people are brought together in 1963 when Charles and James are hired to be co-pastors at a Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village. Charles comes from an upper class, intellectual background, and is a good listener to his parishioners' concerns. James, the son of an alcoholic father damaged by the war, is a fiery man who wants to change the world. The two men complement each other in their work, and become good friends.

Their wives are very different. Charles' wife, Lily, is a loner, an academic, and an atheist. Her emotional life was severely impacted when her parents died when she was a teenager. Nan, the religious wife of James and the daughter of a minister, is much more suited to being a minister's wife. Both women have difficult challenges to face as they start their families.

Faith, or the lack of faith, ties the story together. The characters are introduced to the reader when they are in their teens, and we follow them through courtships, and their years of marriage. Struggles and difficult decisions, testing their faith in God, are presented in a sensitive manner. Even though faith plays a central role in the plot, the story never feels preachy, and various points of view are explored. Faith is a deeply personal feeling for each person, and it may waver or become stronger during that person's life. This is a special book that I would recommend to readers who enjoy complex characters, and heartbreaking situations presented with depth and compassion.
Profile Image for Angie.
342 reviews22 followers
July 12, 2019
I liked the idea of this novel exploring how these characters--both individually and collectively--wrestle with faith and doubt in God and each other. Unfortunately, the characters felt more like vessels for viewpoints or plot devices than fully realized people. The second half also seemed to belong to another novel entirely. Edited to add: Faith by Jennifer Haigh is a book with similar themes (but vastly different plot) that I enjoyed much more.
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
September 6, 2019
I am an outlier here, I was frustrated with the rationale of some of the characters. I can see why so many really enjoyed the story so best to ignore my idiosyncrasies.
Abandoned at page 112.
Profile Image for Cindy Burnett (Thoughts from a Page).
565 reviews981 followers
August 1, 2020
THE DEARLY BELOVED is a stunningly beautiful book – incredibly thought-provoking and lyrically written. As I read it, I frequently marveled at Wall’s prose and marked numerous passages to go back to in the future. Through her four vastly different main characters, Wall delves into what it means to be human: making connections, helping others, exploring faith, and maintaining relationships. And she sets the main portions of this saga against the backdrop of Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 1970s – decades of immense change and turbulence.

My favorite character in the book is Jane Atlas who guides the others with a steady and rock-solid hand and always knows what needs to be done and how to do it. We could all use a Jane Atlas in our lives.

I loved this book so much with two small exceptions – the ending felt rushed and everything wrapped up a little too neatly. However, these two small issues do not take away from the book’s exploration of faith, what it means to different people, and how it impacts our daily lives. I highly recommend it and look forward to Wall’s next endeavor.

Listen to my podcast at https://www.thoughtsfromapage.com for fun author interviews. For more book reviews, check out my Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/thoughtsfro....
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,470 reviews566 followers
February 17, 2020
I'm rarely drawn to novels about faith and religion but this one is different. The Dearly Beloved is a nuanced and fascinating character study - an engrossing, graceful novel about the inner struggles and differences of 4 characters as they try to make a life and create families. James and Charles are both Presbyterian ministers so God is involved. The time period is the 1960s, and it is more than a backdrop - their lives are strongly affected by the struggles in the world outside of them.
Profile Image for Laura • lauralovestoread.
1,153 reviews235 followers
August 12, 2019

“𝙳𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚕𝚢 𝚋𝚎𝚕𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚍,” 𝚑𝚎 𝚋𝚎𝚐𝚊𝚗. 𝚃𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚠𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚠𝚘𝚛𝚍𝚜 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚜𝚝𝚊𝚛𝚝𝚎𝚍 𝚠𝚎𝚍𝚍𝚒𝚗𝚐𝚜, 𝚗𝚘𝚝 𝚋𝚊𝚙𝚝𝚒𝚜𝚖𝚜, 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚙𝚎𝚘𝚙𝚕𝚎 𝚒𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚌𝚑𝚞𝚛𝚌𝚑 𝚠𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚑𝚒𝚜 𝚋𝚎𝚕𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚍, 𝚜𝚘 𝚍𝚎𝚊𝚛 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚊𝚜 𝚑𝚎 𝚜𝚙𝚘𝚔𝚎 𝚑𝚒𝚜 𝚑𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚝 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚛𝚘𝚊𝚝 𝚐𝚛𝚎𝚠 𝚝𝚒𝚐𝚑𝚝.”
—𝙲𝚊𝚛𝚊 𝚆𝚊𝚕𝚕, 𝚃𝚑𝚎 𝙳𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚕𝚢 𝙱𝚎𝚕𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚍

I’m still somewhat processing my feelings with this book, but it definitely pulled at my emotions and gently pushed the issues of religion, which I’ve rarely seen done so eloquently before.

The Dearly Beloved is a debut novel, with the woven story of friendship, grief, love, faith, doubt, and perseverance. I knew little about this book other than it involved two couples that would meet through their husbands line of work as pastors. I quickly fell in love with the stories of James, Charles, Lily and Nan, as I learned of their pasts, wondering how they would meet.

I did have a few moments where I didn’t love some of the characters, and felt disconnected, but they drew me back in, and I ended this book with a full heart.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5 stars!

*Thank you to the publisher for this free copy. All opinions are my own

Profile Image for Melanie.
273 reviews132 followers
January 30, 2022
When I started this I was just reading in small segments so I wasn't really getting into it. When I got the chance to read in larger chunks it sucked me in. I love the way this author writes. I loved getting to know all the characters. Tears leaked from my eyes at the end.
Profile Image for TLMH.
63 reviews
June 28, 2019
Have you ever finished a book, and your foremost reaction is that it was a privilege to have read it? That is how I felt about this book.

Most writers are great at entertaining and storytelling. But then there are a few elite authors that just GET humans. It is clear that Cara Wall is an elite author. Ms. Wall has crafted a cast of completely different characters that are each so relatable. I have never identified so strongly with a character as I did with Lily. I have a new answer to “Who is your favorite literary character?”

I don’t want to go into the plot; not only is the book description pretty thorough, when I read saga’s like The Dearly Beloved, I like the tale to unfold for me as it does for the characters. I absolutely do not want any spoilers. But I will say this- do not pass this up because you don’t want to be “preached at”, because it doesn’t happen in this book.

This was an ARC, but I assure you, I will buy this the day it comes out. It will be reread, dog-eared, and covered in marginalia.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Profile Image for Elease.
334 reviews4 followers
November 6, 2019
If, like mine, your Christian faith includes, oh, I dunno, Christ (aka Jesus, Son of God, etc.), then you'll probably find this book mostly depressing, as the being the protagonists ponder in it is labeled solely as "God." In a book that is supposed to show the deepest thoughts and struggles of two couples in their contemplation of their beliefs as they live their lives (beliefs, by the way, which are externally manifested in two of these people being ordained and active Presbyterian ministers (!!! They sure aren't OPC, amiright?!) and in one of them being a minister's daughter and wife), the text only ever refers to "God." I'm not sure how the two male protagonists landed on Christianity, except that they came of age in 1950s/60s East Coast America where the most prevalent theism at the time was Christianity. Because, really, they are simply theistic humanists (is that an oxymoron? well, I'm going for it anyway)--and, sure, I'll give it them, monotheistic humanists. Well, perhaps one of them isn't even a theist, since he repeatedly falls back on his doubt about the existence of God at all (YES, ONE OF THE MINISTERS). And maybe one is a little less humanistic than the other. The point is, however, that the author seems not to grasp what a Protestant (and especially Presbyterian) Christian faith is ALL ABOUT. It's in the WORD "Christian" for goodness sake! This whole book could probably be redone to be about the guys converting to Islam or Judaism and the author wouldn't have to rewrite any of the internal religious thought processes or struggles.

Sorry, I have more words about this, but I'm getting riled up...

Okay, so getting away from the total depression that imagines a world and a Presbytery and Session that would all have these two fellows lead a local church, the story itself is only so-so. Really, to me, the only honest character was Lily (the atheist). There were some fairly interesting social justice issues of the time raised, but these weren't necessarily dug into and hashed out, except perhaps one.

Can't recommend this one, friends. Next!

PS - HOW in the WORLD did NEITHER Nan's NOR Charles's characters EVER have the phrase "unequally yoked" run through their minds?!?!?!?!?!?!??!??!
Profile Image for Terrie  Robinson.
398 reviews588 followers
June 27, 2020
“The Dearly Beloved” by Cara Wall was an emotional journey for me!

I can’t remember a book that was so heart wrenching and brought me to tears so easily than reading about these relationships. My favorite passage is when Charles speaks at Lola’s christening about the three kinds of trials in life:

“...Don’t ever shrink from those last trials. Run to them. Because only in the quality of your struggles with one another will you learn anything about yourself. Sometimes that struggle is nearly impossible to survive, but it is those trials that make a life.”

I learned so much about myself and life by reading this book!! What a beautiful read‼️❤️🤓👏
Profile Image for Laura Tremaine.
Author 3 books877 followers
February 8, 2020
The first 3/4s of this book was extra strong, and then I felt like it just wrapped up really quickly when I could have read another hundred pages about these families. So the end left me a little wanting, but still five stars because I ended reading it so much. I can’t remember the last time I highlighted so many passages in a novel.
Profile Image for Angela.
115 reviews
September 19, 2019
Overall I enjoyed this well enough. There was some good material here, and some interesting discussions of characters wrestling with their faith. I'm not a believer, so I appreciated the way unbelief was explored as a worthy viewpoint.
I think the story could have been fleshed out a lot more. And I mean A LOT. Two young couples are
having babies, and then the next page is the epilogue, where they're old people and one of them has died.
The author's writing style is enjoyable to read, and she developed the characters nicely in the first part of the book.
3 1/2 stars
Profile Image for Jennifer.
47 reviews19 followers
April 24, 2020
I had high expectations for Dearly Beloved based on the many positive rankings and reviews. Unfortunately, my expectations were dashed as I felt it was unexceptional and uninspiring. The first third of the book was my favorite part as the writing was eloquent, character driven and the narrative was interesting. I was pleased. Then, it changed and felt flat and mostly melancholic. All four of the main characters struggled inwardly, consuming the story by mostly the author telling, not showing. The ending skipped through decades and felt loose. I would have liked more information on how some of the characters grew up.

Standout Excerpts:
“The outline of the world—trees, pavement, hands, the tops of buildings against the sky—was too keen, too ready to fall and slice. The unplanned chaos of people moving about her was too much to bear. She needed flat angles, thin pages, to sit quietly with her hair tucked behind her ear.” Pg 17

“As the woman held up the camera, and they stepped closer together, Charles knew all was not well. All was not well, all would never be well; but all was not lost.” Pg 334
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