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ADFehlArden, NCAge: 25-34Gender: female4 Stars Out Of 5A pretty immersive, fictionalized look at Mrs. CS LewisOctober 25, 2019ADFehlArden, NCAge: 25-34Gender: femaleQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5As the title hints, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a fictionalized look at the life of Joy Davidman, the woman who would eventually become the one and only wife of author C.S. Lewis, largely known for his beloved Chronicles of Narnia series. While the prologue briefly dips into Joy's childhood in the 1920s, the bulk of the story runs throughout the 1950s, finishing in 1960, the year of Joy's death. Her death would sadly inspire another classic work of Lewis', A Grief Observed, chronicling his mourning period. But let's focus more on how this unique bond came to be.
Callahan's story, as it pertains to C.S. Lewis (known as "Jack" by close friends), opens in 1950. At that time, Joy is Joy Davidman Gresham; her husband, Bill Gresham, also a writer (Lewis was Joy's second husband). The story informs the reader that for years Joy has been struggling with her husband's alcoholism and philandering ways. But she does her best to stick things out for her sons. She also admits that during this first marriage she considered herself an atheist, until one night when her husband wouldn't come home, called home hinting that he was having suicidal thoughts. In desperation, Joy falls to her knees in prayer, not entirely convinced it will do anything but just needing to latch onto some shred of hope. In a moment that spans less than a minute but also feels like ages, Joy is convinced she's having a connection with the Holy Spirit. For the next three years, she seeks out every book she can get her hands on to try to find answers to what she experienced. Her newfound passion for theology brings Lewis' works into her hands. Nothing gives her peace like his non-fiction essays on philosophy and religion. She particularly moved by The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.
By this time, the Greshams are still struggling to regain a healthy marriage, so Joy decides to write to Lewis to ask his advice on some of the questions plaguing her. She's ecstatic when she receives a reply back! So starts a friendship in letters, because it turns out there's a comfort in Joy's letters that Lewis didn't realize he so strongly needed. Joy being a poet and novelist herself, as well as having some theological pieces of her own recently published... well,the two can't deny they might have stumbled upon kindred spirits within each other.
This correspondence carries on over the course of years, Lewis in England, Joy in The States. Lewis makes several offers for Joy to come visit him and his brother at The Kilns, their personal residence. Having struggled with health problems all her life --- low thyroid, lung and kidney infections, chronic fatigue --- her body eventually declines to the point where Joy feels an escape to England might be just the thing to turn her health right. With her physical troubles being worsened with her stressing over her books not selling as well as she'd like and the arrival of her cousin Renee, moving in with two more kids in tow, Joy increasingly feels more sure that England is the place to take a breather from everything, focus on her health and work on finishing some writing projects that will bring in some much needed money for the family. So England also becomes a quiet "research trip" for her WIP novel about King Charles II.
While Joy doesn't stay with Lewis on those early trips to The Kilns (she's still a married woman for most of the book, after all), she does visit with the Lewis brothers quite often. It becomes pretty evident, the longer one reads into the story, that the Gresham union is largely being held by a sense of duty and history rather than much remaining love and friendship. They might have pet names for each other, but Bill Gresham (in this story) often speaks to Joy with a thinly veiled demeaning, patronizing tone to his words. Though she's a published author with a number of professional accolades (Callahan's historical note at the end points out that the real Joy graduated college at 15!), he still insists on going about as if HER writing is a hobby, his work the real breadwinning stuff. When Joy and Jack first speak, right from the get-go she has an instant sense of being valued and acknowledged. Even just as friends, Lewis is constantly praising Joy's work and values her opinion as an industry colleague. When Lewis says to Joy, "Our friendship is big enough even for the sorrows." --- that's a HUGE statement!
The connection works great as long as it doesn't go beyond the boundaries of strictly friendship --- philia, as Lewis refers to it. That's not to say they both don't feel more. Both are definitely aware of intensified feelings as the years pass. But there's plenty working against them, in Lewis' mind. He doesn't love Joy's confession about her meeting and getting involved with Bill when he was still with his first wife, but Lewis can brush that off as a "I didn't know you then" moment. But even after Joy's divorce from Bill is finalized, Lewis still hesitates to have ANY bodily contact with Joy, not so much as a brush on the arm most days, because now she is a divorcee, which is frowned upon in Lewis' church. They eventually find a way through these confusing feelings, the turnaround largely brought about by Joy's cancer diagnosis shortly after she and Lewis decide to marry (the first time around, it was essentially a green card marriage, solidified later with a second ceremony).
This does seem to be one of those stories you have to dedicate some time to --- there's a lot of themes covered and it doesn't always move terribly fast, but I was never bored! The early chapters hit the heavy topics early on: the prologue briefly referencing child abuse, the first chapters past that bringing up alcoholism, PTSD, abuse, suicidal tendencies... spouses who have these things and the spouses caring for them. Early in Part 3 there is also a scene of spousal abuse when Joy confronts Bill once and for all about his infidelities and he attacks her for it.
While the topics of philosophy and religion, references to Lewis' nonfiction Christian essay collections, etc do get somewhat heavy at times, much of the story is more about the various roles and difficulties a woman has to navigate throughout the course of her life. Much of Joy's story seems to be a woman's 30+ year journey towards addressing "daddy issues", as some might call it these days. There's a father she works so hard to please, but who is so quick to backhand her over a B on a report card, of all things! In that moment, something breaks in her and her path from that point on becomes an obsessive drive to prove to everyone that she is worthy of love and admiration. Her story is also one of a woman's aggravating struggle to be taken seriously by the medical community. Every complaint she takes into a doctor's office --- nausea, fatigue, leg pains, heart palpitations --- is regularly dismissed as rheumatism, middle age, "lady troubles".... until the day she loses the ability to walk and a doctor says her body is riddled with cancer that's probably been growing in her for at least seven years!
Those of you drawn to this book for the sheer "bookish" aspect, Callahan delivers on that front as well. You'll see plenty of literary figures pop into the story, from Lewis's good buddy JRR Tolkien... he wrote something people are always raving on about, what was that.... :-P .... mention of Joy having lunch with P.L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins stories), has a doctor consultation with a doctor who happens to be Graham Greene's brother... there's even a funny discussion where Joy is having a chat with friend Dorothy Heyward, whose husband wrote the book Porgy & Bess that was later turned into the famous stage production. Dorothy mentions how she did much of the work on the stage adaptation but for a time her contributions went largely uncredited. The fact itself -- not exactly laughable --- but the ladies have a little commiserating chuckle about their similar circumstances when Joy is at a particularly low point.
In the end, Joy's story made me that much more grateful to be in a solid relationship these days, deeply rooted in honest friendship. Having been on the other end of the spectrum myself --- having experienced a previously unhealthy cohabitation like Joy did --- I can tell you it makes all the difference to one's soul to find a centered sense of being within a cozy, supportive relationship where your partner doesn't guilt trip you for health issues beyond your control or accuse you of being lazy or self-indulgent when you have days where the energy just isn't there no matter how hard you try, someone who encourages your passions and professional pursuits, rather than feel threatened by them.
I'll close on saying that Callahan was also successful in not only motivating me to pick up some of these still-unread copies of Lewis' essays parked on my shelves but also in checking out Joy's works, which I'll admit, I was largely unacquainted with prior to diving into this story.
* Discussion guide included in the hardback edition
FTC DISCLAIMER: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.
Carolyn T WilsonBowersville, GeorgiaAge: Over 65Gender: female5 Stars Out Of 5Becoming Mrs. LewisOctober 23, 2019Carolyn T WilsonBowersville, GeorgiaAge: Over 65Gender: femaleQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5I have always been fascinated by this love story. The story shows us that Lewis, one of the greatest minds to the 20th century, was just as human as we all. Also shows that every life has its ups and downs, heartaches and disappointments. But God is faithful.
JessicaAge: 25-34Gender: female5 Stars Out Of 5Great historical novelMay 19, 2019JessicaAge: 25-34Gender: femaleAs an admirer of C. S. Lewis, both as a writer and an apologist, I was drawn to this book when I saw it. I'd never read anything by or about Joy Davidman, so I wanted to learn more about the woman who Lewis (known to those who loved him as Jack) married.
This book, though fiction, pulls from various letters, interviews, biographies, and other sources to piece together the lives of, and the relationship between, Joy and Jack.
After her conversion, Joy seeks answer and begins exchanging letters with Lewis. Her failing marriage and her new faith seem to be at odds most of the time, and she finds a kindred spirit in Jack, who had a conversion similar to her own. Their friendship grows, and Joy's new journey begins.
While there is nothing in this novel that is explicit, it does handle the topics of alcoholism, abuse, adultery, and illness in a very honest way. It brings these people back to life to tell us their story. It follows a woman who struggles with desire and emotional insecurities as she tries to follow Christ. It's Joy's story, but it's also a love story, of a love that seemed impossible in many ways, but was the truest love there is.
Jennybug524 Stars Out Of 5Becoming zmrs. LewisApril 1, 2019Jennybug52Quality: 5Value: 4Meets Expectations: 44 stars- This was the first book I've read by this author. I admit the sheer size of this book seemed a bit daunting at first, but I was intrigued by the subject. I enjoyed C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia as a child but didn't really know much about his personal life.
It's amazing how God works things out according to His plan, even when it seems improbable, if not impossible. Joy Davidman's life was not easy and the story of how God led her to C.S. Lewis and ultimately love made for an endearing tale. She was a strong woman that found an unlikely match in C.S. Lewis, or Jack as she called him.
It was interesting to read snippets from their many letters and see their intellectual and spiritual relationship grow across the span of an ocean and several years. How amazing would it be to have a spiritual giant such as C.S. Lewis be your pen pal and help answer all of your questions about God?
This was a touching story with a bittersweet ending that I would recommend. Now I feel the strong urge to watch "Shadowlands" and learn even more. I received a copy of this book for free. I was not required to post a positive review and the views and opinions expressed are my own.
SemmieAge: 35-44Gender: female5 Stars Out Of 5A Story of Love & GraceMarch 29, 2019SemmieAge: 35-44Gender: femaleQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5** "In a crack of my soul, during the untethered fear while calling for help, the sneaky Lion saw his chance, and God came in; he entered the fissures of my heart as if he'd been waiting a long time to find an opening. Warmth fell over me; a river of peace passed through me. For the first time in my life, I felt fully known and loved. There was a solid sense that he was with me, had always been with me." **
Patti Callahan's historical fiction novel, "Becoming Mrs. Lewis," is the beautifully brilliant telling of the life of Joy Davidman Gresham, the woman who would one day capture the heart and mind of C.S. Lewis.
"Becoming Mrs. Lewis" reveals the life of Joy -- an author, converted Jew, former atheist and ex-Communist -- in four parts plus a prologue from her childhood visits to the lions at the Bronx Zoo: her life in America with first husband Bill Gresham, an abusive and philandering man who was also an author, and the time she began a correspondence with Lewis to seek answers about her conversion experience; 1952 England, where she meets Lewis, and seeks healing for her ailing body, mind and soul; a return to America in 1953, where she gets the fortitude to break from her husband, who is now in a relationship with her cousin; and England starting in November 1953, where, as she puts it, "Life is ahead" and her relationship with Lewis grows.
Callahan does an amazing job of taking her research and bringing us into the life of Joy and Jack, as his friends called him, and developing a beautiful story of how their friendship and eventually love grew, and how they faced Joy's cancer at the height of their love. Sadly, their letters to each other have been destroyed, but the author does a great job of recreating how their letters and dialogues may have read, and the thoughts and feelings behind them. As a matter fact, this whole novel reads as if Joy herself had written it.
Joy's story is so well written you will feel as if you are walking along beside her on her journey. This story takes you deep into her heart and soul. She is such a strong character, but yet has very real flaws, fears and weaknesses.
Besides deeply engrossing the reader into Joy's life, Callahan has such a beautifully descriptive way of writing at times: "The line of poetry was blown away by his voice, a fragile dandelion pod now empty and scattered;" "...the peace of that trip had fallen away like a waterfall, down a river far gone;" and "The plumbing, ancient and groaning like one of Jack's fictional frozen statues come to life."
This book is filled with so many goodies, life lessons if you will, like why do we wait so long to seek God; seeking answers only God can provide; uncertainty is the cross God always gives us in life; dismissal versus acceptance; we ache for what's familiar when there is something better out there; God has enough grace for us all; faith, prayers and belief; and being a Christian is not about rules and regulations but trust, surrender and transformation.
Love, of course, is a huge theme of "Becoming Mrs. Lewis" -- love of God, love of one's self, and love for fellow man.
Another major theme includes trusting God when we need to be brave, and the power that we find in that trust. As Joy tells a friend: "Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow. ... What if I trust that command? What on earth would become of me if I should ever grow brave?"
One final major theme that swirls throughout this novel is revealing our true selves, our real face. As Joy tells Jack: "My false face. It can get in the way. I don't see God as magic; you know that. I wanted my conversion to escort some change into my life, but sadly I think I'm essentially the same. Only with God. My masks remain. Anger still bursts out before I can stop it. I built my masks readily and with such skill that I believe they lock into place when I'm unaware and nervous. It can be blisteringly difficult to show one's real face."
As you travel with Joy, each chapter begins with a quote from one of the writers, mostly from Joy's recently discovered sonnets, revealing even more of her heart.
"Becoming Mrs. Lewis" is, quite simply, a fantastic book. Probably one of the best for 2018. As a lover of C.S. Lewis, particularly all things Narnia, I loved peeking behind the curtain to see into the mind of the brilliant writer, and into the mind of his muse -- a woman I knew a little about, but not a lot.
Five stars out of five.
Thomas Nelson provided this complimentary copy for my honest, unbiased review.