Charles and Lily, James and Nan; we follow 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.
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.