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23 August

Review & Discuss -- Pastors' Wives: A Novel

(Image from Amazon.com)
I had the privilege of receiving an advance review copy of Pastors' Wives: A Novel, by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen last spring. Generally, a book with such a title would make me cringe, as I even now grimace when I think of the stereotypical way pastors' wives are sometimes portrayed in popular culture. However, remembering the sensitive way Cullen covered the pastor's wife story in Time magazine long ago, I felt pretty safe opening the pages and diving in.

I wasn't disappointed!

Cullen hooked me right away with a first person narrative from Ruthie, the main character -- very warm and inviting, like I was sitting on the couch with her, drinking my cup of hot tea and listening intently to her misadventures into pastor's wife-dom. I particularly loved how Ruthie would relate to the audience when describing certain life choices that in retrospect were perhaps a bit puzzling! There are some mild language choices that some might find objectionable, but I found that it was occasional and only served to make Ruthie's character more believable.

The other two pastors' wives, we hear of in the third person. Initially, I thought the narrative change was a mistake that would be corrected in the final copy, but then I realized it was a brilliant way to tell the story. I found myself identifying just a bit with each of them -- whether it was the seasoned wife with the well-tuned radar, or the young wife trying to find her niche, I could see myself in either situation.

I also appreciated that the characters were complex and believable, with human strengths and failings -- not unlike many Biblical characters we've known all our lives. Cullen also has an incredibly visual writing style. As the mega-church pastor's wife was going about her day, I could see the doors opening and the events happening as they were being described.

Though I thought it was generally a captivating book, I think Cullen missed a detail here or there. And I say this with grace, because I couldn't even begin to write a novel like this. So, the last thing I want to do is pick apart something that is well done.

But if I were talented enough to write a novel such as this (and knowing what I know about denominations), I probably would have made the mega church pastor and pastor's wife originate from a denomination that is ruled more from the congregational bottoms-up model (i.e. Baptist) because of the parsonage condition she describes. I've dabbled in other denominations, and some are just known for taking better care of their pastors in small churches than others. A minor detail, though.

The other thing I felt she may have missed was the whole "God calling the pastors in a dream" as it was described. I mean, yes, at times that happens and we find such scenarios in the Bible, itself. But... it seemed more mystical and new agey, in my opinion. I just know from the dude, especially, and also hearing from other pastors, too -- I've never heard a scenario like she described. My husband describes his calling like Jeremiah, as a "fire in his bones" -- it was most evident when he was sitting in church white-knuckled, knowing full well (and resisting) what God was calling him to do.

And Finally...
Cullen describes how the novel came about on her website. However, I get the feeling that the impetus also came a bit from her imagining how she might react if her husband were ever called into ministry. But really, you'd never know from Ruthie's character that Cullen isn't a pastor's wife -- she really nailed the gamut of emotions Ruthie might have felt, in my opinion, and really nailed the book in general.

So what about you? Have you read Pastors' Wives yet? If so, what did you think? Even if you're not in a mega-church (most of us aren't), which pastor's wife do you identify with the most? You can comment here --->(comments) and/or link to your review in the linky list below.

I'd love to hear back from you. If you don't plan to read the book, you could answer one of the questions below instead:

How was your husband "called" into ministry?

What about you and your callings? How did you come to know what they were?

Do you have any callings in your life that felt supernatural in how they came about?


Update! Feel free to link to your reviews here:

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