Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pastors' Wives: A Novel by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Pastors’ Wives: A Novel.  Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. Plume Books: Penguin Group (USA).  April 2013. 368 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780452298828.

Ruthie is a non-believer whose husband hears “the call” to service for God.  Imagine her dismay when he asks her to share his mission in a megachurch in Atlanta, Georgia called Greenleaf.  Her background is publicity and she is quickly upon their arrival put in charge of a journalist who wants to follow the pastor and write a series of articles on this famous beloved man of God, Aaron.  Candace is his “perfect” wife, a woman who dresses stylishly, always has a smile on her face, and who is really the super-manager of Greenleaf Church.  Her faith is real but her job is so stressful that she pops Imitrex for migraines on a daily basis.  The tension never leaves as there are constant problems from parishioners as well as the elders who mercilessly oppose the couple’s innovative programs like pop Christian music, a coffee bar, bookstore, and yoga center. The more appealing it seems to the reader, the more trouble it brings!

Once Ruthie and hubby Jerry get to work, Jerry becomes the favorite of Aaron, a relationship like that of a father and son who grow very close.  Candace is carefully watching Ruthie and likes what she sees, something that doesn’t happen much with her son Timothy’s wife, Ginger, a woman who is hiding such a horrific secret that could totally destroy the church if known to the public.  Apart from that, Ginger is a great Mom but has no special gifts to contribute to the church, at least that’s how she thinks and feels as she’s constantly exposed to Candace’s pattern of scrutiny followed by disgust.  Not a very healthy scenario and the reader sees it all foreshadowing something disastrous.

Candace’s pride and joy, however, are her grandchildren.  She’ll do anything and everything for them; indeed aside from her passionate love of her husband, the children are the true joy of her life.  She makes sure they are dressed well, eat only healthy food, and have excellent books and education.  Yet why is she always asking God, “How can I serve You?”  Her prayers seem quite formal and repetitive but they are the most honest part of her personality and she will soon enough discover what true faith is!
For several potentially destructive challenges lie ahead that will change this group of three so very different women to unite and become truly pastors’ wives in the most literal sense of the phrase. Why must faith, marriage, loyalty to family, and so much more be tested? And how does one know if one’s faith is real, strong, and/or weak?
Pastors’ Wives is quite refreshing.  These women are so very human and their dilemmas parallel the problems of their parishioners.  It is a delight to share the journey of each person.  The tension never lessens and how each handles that atmosphere is the “key” in this novel to stabilizing and strengthening each of them, to discover the hidden strength that faith in God and each other provide in every moment, through the most challenging and joyful of times!

Insecurities, mistakes, mis-communication, and so many more problems leave this group of three woman in constant flux.  Each learns to shed the useless garbage of the past and embrace the identity that each discovers as the story progresses into almost unbelievably killing stress.  Fine, fine fiction, Ms. Cullen. Compromise? Submission?  Rebellion? Lies or Honesty? Always the conflict evolves to form a fine secondary revelation for each of these three women who are so much stronger than they think

Finely written, Ms. Cullen – finely indeed!

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