The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

Fun fact: a section of The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall’s debut novel, is set in Wheaton, Illinois!

I had no idea this was the case when I started reading the book upon its 2019 release. My motivation to snap it up from the New Fiction shelf was solely related to the terrific reviews from The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and additional publications. Plus, the novel was a Read With Jenna book club pick, and the summary intrigued me. A story that explores faith in all its forms through the interwoven lives of two couples across three decades, one that has been compared to the literary masterpiece Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner? Count me in! And I was in, deep inside Wall’s compassionate, wise narrative from the moment I read the first page to the end.

The four central characters happen to be involved (to greater and lesser degrees) in the same church in New York City during the tumultuous 1960s and beyond. While the men serve as ministers at the church, the women follow very different vocational paths. The characters maintain varying ideas about the possibilities, limitations, and purposes of faith in their lives and make different choices based on their beliefs, or lack thereof. Their perspectives on faith, their goals and conflicts, along with their relationships with each other, shift and evolve as children are born and cultural and personal crises ignite. Therein lies the joy of The Dearly Beloved—this well-crafted narrative, a perfect choice for book groups, explores big questions by grounding and realizing them in the most intimate and relatable situations.

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