The...book is wise, nuanced, restrained, and—perhaps most radically—kind. Wall’s approach is quiet and intellectual, yet of an overwhelming grace that reminds us: This is exactly why we read literary fiction ... The Dearly Beloved feels so galvanizing. In the vein of the great Marilynne Robinson, Wall compassionately tackles theological matters; she pays close attention to how her devout (and not-so-devout) characters think, how they feel. They’re rendered with distinctive detail ... In The Dearly Beloved, Wall gives us the gift of bearing intimate witness to human beings grapple with their faith, fall in love, build a family. She realizes the power of the novel in its simplest, richest form.
Wall’s book is more satisfying as a novel of marriage than of religion. The horizontal relationships are far more realized than the vertical ones, and The Dearly Beloved is most compelling on romance, friendship and familial love ... some of the most stirring scenes in The Dearly Beloved are the ones that dramatize the love one spouse feels for another or that parents feel for their children ... Love as knowledge, love as presence: These human loves are beautifully brought to life in The Dearly Beloved, but they don’t come together as explications of holiness. Wall goes out of her way to build religion into the structure of her novel, but you don’t need to set a book in a garden to tell a story about the Fall, or have clergymen for characters to write about how God acts in the world. Many believers go to church to remember that the universe is wide and the moral universe is widening; it’s a pity when a novel goes there, but never leaves.
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. This has broad appeal for book groups.
Writing with restrained lyricism, Wall’s debut—15 years in the making—offers a kind of literary chamber music, combining the viewpoints of a quartet of characters across multiple decades and events ... Old-fashioned in tone and subject matter, the story is set in the mid-20th century and evokes some of the stifling social norms of the era. Wall has a very precise sensibility, and there is no escaping the sense of tidy predetermination in the clear, fixed positions of her four figures and their various oppositions, seen through the debates, struggles, rejections, and consolations that arise among them. Finely drawn and paced and written with intense compassion, the novel shifts ground with a late development that will test and push forward each of the four, leading to a conclusion consistent with Wall’s grace and control ... A moving, eloquent exploration of faith and its response to the refining fire of life’s challenges.
... sensitive, deliberate ... Rather than simply throwing all these strong personalities together, Wall slowly and carefully builds the history and point of view of each individual and then each new couple. By creating such well-defined characters, she 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 ... This is a story in which religion is central to the plot and the actions of the characters, but in which the author stands back from taking sides in the battle. It’s a rare and intellectually stimulating outing.