One of the statements I kept on my Mama Duck About Me page for a long time was that I’m a non-fiction reader. Every now and then, I pick up a fiction novel but in the past, it was usually to preview a story before my kids read it.
After church service one morning about six months ago, my friend handed me the book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan. Before I realized what I was taking from her hands she said, “You have to read it.”
I immediately handed it back to her, laughing that if I want fiction, I’ll watch TV. I had no time to read with my new job, etc. etc. I politely held it in front of her.
She insisted I would love it and would not accept it back.
I sighed, brought it home and placed it on my living room side table where it sat for two months.
One evening, I eyed it next to me, wondering if I could bear reading “fiction” about C. S. Lewis’ beloved wife. I knew their love story and like many, I’m a big fan of Lewis’ writings.
I read the first chapter sitting on the couch next to my family who were immersed in some mindless TV program. They started laughing at their show. I grunted, wishing them quiet as I turned to chapter two.
By chapter three, I marked my page, closed the book and carried it into my bedroom where I read until I fell asleep.
I finished the book in record time, and stuck multiple post-its on countless pages, as if I were indeed reading a non-fiction book.
I ordered my own copy off Amazon, marked the same pages with my post-its and began reading it again with a highlighter and pen close by.Outside of the Bible and countless re-reads of books I read to my kids every night while they were growing up, I rarely read anything a second time.
Likely, I was particularly taken with not just Joy Davidman’s compelling life story but what I believe is outstanding writing by Callahan. I read limited fiction so I’m far from an experienced literary critic, but Callahan’s writing captivated me.
The writing was extraordinarily descriptive but not flowery. She didn’t waste time with irrelevant details that many fiction authors do. Callahan ensures you feel Joy Davidman’s bad marriage to Bill Gresham. The reader is burdened by Davidman’s ever-present need for more money…the lack of funds hovering in her mind every day. Callahan conveys Joy’s desperate desire to write but remains confined by the exclusive female duties at the time of cleaning, cooking and child rearing that left little time to pursue her craft.
Of course the book is centered around Davidman’s love story with Clive Staples Lewis which begins with the famous exchanged letters between them across an ocean…the common thread initially being their desire to know the God they deemed non-existent much of their adult lives.
I’ve read the great works of Jane Austin and a host of other outstanding fiction authors. I appreciate the classic fiction writers – it’s more the contemporary fiction writings that disinterest me. Or so I thought. In my limited experience with present-day fiction, I found Becoming Mrs. Lewis to be a worthwhile read. Her spiritual struggles, the endless waiting for Lewis to finally commit to love her completely, the physical limitations as her disease progressed…each of Davidman’s internal conflicts were well-explained by Callahan.
In summary, as I read through the acknowledgements at the end, Callahan thanks Douglas Gresham, Joy’s son, who contributed greatly to Callahan’s research for the book. Being the stepson of C.S. Lewis, Gresham is also the person who brought the Narnia book series to the movies.
Reading Callahan’s thanks to Douglas Gresham, I paused, realizing that much of this “fiction” was no doubt grounded in very real truths about Davidman’s life.