Pastors' Wives by Lisa Cullen
April 30, 2013; 368 Pages
What’s it like when the man you married is already married to God? asks Pastors’ Wives, an often surprising yet always emotionally true first novel set in a world most of us know only from the outside.
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen’s debut novel Pastors’ Wives follows three women whose lives converge and intertwine at a Southern evangelical megachurch. Ruthie follows her Wall Street husband from New York to Magnolia, a fictional suburb of Atlanta, when he hears a calling to serve at a megachurch called Greenleaf. Reeling from the death of her mother, Ruthie suffers a crisis of faith—in God, in her marriage, and in herself. Candace is Greenleaf’s “First Lady,” a force of nature who’ll stop at nothing to protect her church and her superstar husband. Ginger, married to Candace’s son, struggles to play dutiful wife and mother while burying her calamitous past. All their roads collide in one chaotic event that exposes their true selves. Inspired by Cullen’s reporting as a staff writer for Time magazine, Pastors’ Wives is a dramatic portrayal of the private lives of pastors’ wives, caught between the demands of faith, marriage, duty, and love. (from Amazon).
I'm sure you've had this happen: you read the description on the back of the book and think...
Maybe this will be good. Maybe I'll like it. Then again, maybe I won't.
Then something about it tips the scale and you decide to give it a try. It might be the cover art or perhaps a recommendation from a trusted friend or librarian. For me it was winning a free advance copy from LibraryThing.
As I sat down with my copy of Pastors' Wives I re-read the cover. My christian sensibility expressed momentary trepidation as I wondered if I might be offended by any of the content. Usually my religious beliefs don't play a big part in my reading, but this seemed like it might hit close to home. I decided that if it got too uncomfortable I just wouldn't finish. After all that's always our prerogative. As it turns out there was nothing to worry about. And in fact my indifference quickly turned to interest as I became infatuated with the women of Greenleaf.
Ruthie, Candace and Ginger have nothing in common - except Greenleaf. The colossal megachurch ("Is that the mall?" asks Ruthie the first time she sees it) that for very different reasons is the nucleus that their lives revolve around. Each woman has a story, and they are as unique as their personalities. The book is written by alternating between these three characters. The author does a terrific job of giving them all a voice, and giving us the opportunity to really get to know them (something that doesn't always happen with this style).
In addition to the women (and their men), Greenleaf is a predominate character. I've seen these megachurches on TV, and I always wondered what they're like. Even though this one isn't real I get the impression that Ms. Cullen's portrayal is pretty accurate. It's something to see how influential it is on the characters. Everything from their homes, the cars they drive and the clothes they wear to people they befriend is orchestrated by the church.
Ms. Cullen's writing has a natural swiftness to it that swept me in right from the beginning. If I would have been able to I probably would have read it in one sitting. As it turns out it only took a couple of days. There's humor and sadness, and several unexpected events that continued to pique my interest as I followed these women. It seems that each of them is on a journey to discover things about themselves, their relationship with their spouse, their relationship with each other and their relationship with God. There are lots of references to the scripture that I found appropriate and necessary to the book (after all it is about pastors' wives!).
I really enjoyed this book, and I think that it will appeal to a wide audience. There were times that I found myself laughing out loud and on two separate occasions reading through tears. That's unusual for me. Not being emotional, but actually crying! That reason alone makes it worthy of a recommendation. The truth is though that Pastor's Wives has a lot more than that going for it. So, if you find yourself feeling indifferent, I hope that my review will be the thing that encourages you to give it a try. I really think you're going to like it!
To learn more about Lisa Cullen visit her website. Just like her writing in the book, the site is smart, interesting and funny. There's a great article on why she wrote Pastors' Wives, and another on picking names for the characters. You can also connect with her on Facebook.
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