Review: The Dearly Beloved

This novel spoke to me in a soul-deep way, exploring questions that have circled in my mind for years.

The story follows two young couples (Charles and Lily, James and Nan) who meet when Charles and James accept a joint ministry at a Presbyterian Church in 1960s NYC.

Charles is a true believer, who feels deeply the call to minister to the lonely and downtrodden. James isn’t certain of God’s existence, but he has a strong desire to change the status quo, to improve justice and equality for all. Nan grew up a minister’s daughter with a simple faith, and she gets deep joy from creating a church community. Lily lost both her parents in a tragic accident as a child, and since then has never believed in God at all.

As we follow these four through their early years of marriage, through crises in their relationships and crises of faith, the author never tells us who has the “best” or “right” kind of faith. I saw myself in James and his restless desire to create change, and in Lily, who sometimes would prefer to lose herself in books rather than deal with real people. I saw some of my friends and family in sweet Nan, who begins with the story with a childlike faith that is later tested.

Each character is compassionately and tenderly drawn, with writing that feels like being rocked on a gentle sea but is never saccharine or prescriptive. We are gently asked to explore what is means to have faith, to belong, to experience doubt, to embrace community.

I LOVED it. I rarely underline or annotate novels but I did with this one. I also found myself crying—inexplicably—throughout the story, as my heart filled to overflowing. Five shining stars!

I received a free from Simon & Schuster. All opinions are my own.

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