I’ve been on a bit of a reading hiatus, which is strange because usually when I travel, I take a book everywhere, wind down with it each night I’m on vacation. But the last month has been spent riding up and down the East Coast, back and forth from Virginia to Connecticut, spending time with dear family members and friends. Since the pandemic prohibited interaction with larger groups of people at its onset, all hours and energy were focused on making memories, making up for lost time.
While I was up North, I did make a trip to The Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut and purchased the most gorgeous hardcover of “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” by Patti Callahan. It was wedged in the “New Arrivals” section, in pristine condition: I picked it up for $4.00 and can say that it was my favorite in the stack of 15 that I ended up snagging. I love wives tales, adored “The Aviators Wife,” “Z,” and others; This one especially appealed to me because of its literary references. I know C.S. Lewis by name, some of his works, but never before researched his personal life or knew of a female figure on his arm.
The book introduces Joy Davidman, a writer and poet living in upstate New York. Her husband, Bill Davidman, was also a writer; They shared a home on sprawling acreage with two young children, Douglas and Davey. But in 1946, money was tight, Joy’s health was declining, and marriage felt like anything but a loving partnership- Bill’s alcoholism and wandering eye left Joy and the children feeling hopeless and abandoned. Joy turned to religion as a way to sort through internal and external struggles, her husband agreeing to be involved in the pursuit toward righteousness. They stumbled upon the works of C.S. Lewis, a renowned writer, theologian, and philosopher living in England, became enthralled with the notions that he so masterfully penned.
Joy decided to write a letter to Lewis, inquiring about some of his writings and principles, and to her surprise, she received a response. The making of a friendship was formed, with typewriter pages and cursive correspondences bridging two continents, two like-minded people.
Bill’s interest diminished but Joy looked forward to each letter with fervor; While everything around her continued to crumble, she dreamed of escaping to England, her own Promised Land. And one day, she did just that.
We sail on the SS United States with Joy as she leaves her family behind, in search of better health, answers to some of her deepest, most profound questions, a fresh start. We fall in love with London as she does, wander cobblestone streets and lush green parks. And finally, we meet the great “Jack” Lewis, larger than life and everything we hoped he’d be.
A short retreat turns into a glimmer of hope- prospect of a new beginning. Joy finds treatment for many of her ailments, feeling healthier and more alive than ever before. Back in New York, Bill has made long-term commitments to a sweeping affair; Joy makes arrangements for divorce and custody. But has she bitten off more than she can handle? Does England- Jack- serve as an escape, or a place that she can truly call home?
FINAL SCORE: 4.3 I really enjoyed this book- A love story unlike others I’ve read. Jack and Joy’s adoration for each other was deep and otherworldly; they were each other’s best friends. When I read most romance novels, I am holding my breath for that first touch, that first kiss. With this account, I reveled in a slowly building companionship and impenetrable bond, paying no mind to physical indications.
BEST FOR: A wide audience with special attention to those literary lovers in the front. 😊Although this is a beautiful work of historical fiction, catching a glimpse into the life of the famous C.S.Lewis and his muse, the woman who made him learn to truly love- madly, deeply; the inspiration behind many of his later works… This novel was a true celebration of Joy Davidman. I appreciated the author’s attention to her story and her own contributions to society. Each chapter of the book begins with excerpts from her sonnets- We are invited to witness the talent that Jack Lewis saw in Joy; Her prose are absolutely divine. I already recommended this book to a colleague and friend of mine, who is also not only a book lover, but English enthusiast as well. The poetry, the dialogue, the subject matter is a feast for those who like to bask in all aspects of the written word.
NOT GOOD FOR: Some readers: It may just not be their cup of tea. When I fill this section out, I always go to Goodreads.com and view some of the less than satisfied comments. Joy and Jack were devout Christians, its how their interactions began, so there is a lot of discussion about theology, the moral compass, contemplation of the righteous path. Some were put off by that, couldn’t decide if the novel was a biographical novel, a work of religious fiction, or chick lit. Others felt that there should have been more of that divine presence, since Jack was a reformed theologian and the book primarily focused on Joy’s intense adoration and longing for his love.
IF THIS BOOK/ AUTHOR WAS A HIGH SCHOOL STEREOTYPE/ SUPERLATIVE: Joy & Jack would receive multiple submissions: Most Likely To Succeed, Most Likely To Go To Oxford, Class Couple, Best Friends, Class Visionaries, Class Philosophers… These two are, quite simply, brilliant, well-rounded, kindred spirits with an enthusiasm for life and adoration for the important things- Faith, nature, creative pursuits, self-betterment, family. I’d love to cozy into a London pub seat with these two and discuss matters of the heart, mind, and imagination; conversation and mentorship that I know I’d never forget.
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