Two couples meet when the husbands are hired to serve at the historic Third Presbyterian Church in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Charles Barrett and James MacNally both have a calling, but they have little else in common, having come from vastly different backgrounds. Their wives differ as well. Lily met Charles when they were both in college and immediately told him she was an atheist. Instead of being the helpmate of a minister, she moves in academic and activist circles. Nan, who is married to James, is the opposite—perfectly content to support her husband’s career and finding comfort in religion.
Thus, Cara Wall, in her debut novel, The Dearly Beloved (SimonandSchuster 2019), writes about the two couples as they move through the tumultuous time of a changing world of the 1960s. It’s also about the relationship between husbands and wives and those they encounter in their lives. The phrase “The Dearly Beloved” is part of the Christian marriage liturgy.
Wall, who spent 15 years writing the novel which has received great reviews, grew up going to First Presbyterian Church.
“It was a very liberal church for the time in New York City and it was a very community based church,” she says, describing how she developed her plot. “We did have two pastors and they were not difficult characters to place.”
Indeed, Wall, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and Stanford University, says that the characters came to her first, already pretty much fully formed. And though they’re ministers, Wall says it’s not a story about men of faith discussing how to be good Christians.
“That’s not what interests me,” she says, noting the book also explores the challenges of raising children and making marriages work. “The biggest misconception about churches is that everyone gets along but that is not true. A church is like a co-op building–it has a board and voting members. It’s a hierarchy, which causes power struggles. For every member, church is one of the most important places in their lives, which means they’re intensely invested in how it’s run.”