Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan is a chronicle of a love story, and it works, to that extent. But somehow, the magic of C.S. Lewis is lost in the book. About two thirds of the way through the story, I asked myself “What’s missing?” and the answer came back: Christianity. Also, I had a hard time believing C.S.Lewis would have used the word “smarmy.”
Christianity is the great magnet that drew these two people together, and yet it is almost ignored until the end of the book. Lewis, a well-known Christian apologist, make his living and his life by clinging to the tenets of Christianity, and Joy Davidman first approached him by writing to him for spiritual advice. Both were converts to Christianity, and took their religion seriously. But in Becoming Mrs. Lewis, it does not seem that Davidman cares all that much about Christianity until she learns she is dying. That would be understanable for many, if not most people, but from everything I’ve read, it simply wasn’t the case for Davidman.
I’ve read a number of reviews for this book and they run the gamut. One person said they would never read anything from a Christian publishing house, and perhaps this is a reason the focus on Christianity was watered down. But anyone who knows anything about Lewis will be disappointed by this.
I also read some reviews where the readers couldn’t finish the book. I was almost among them. The book really bogs down in the middle, but picks up with the dramatic events towards the end. We see that Joy comes to terms with her Christianity and spirituality after she learns of her impending death. It is a very human journey, and we get a sense of the miraculous after Lewis prays to take on his wife’s suffering. I’ve read some people who claim that Lewis brought about his own relatively early death by doing this.
In any case, I don’t think it would have harmed the book for non-believers if more was made of Christianity earlier in the book. I really would have liked to have learned more about what Davidman’s views on the subject were, especially as she moved through a divorce and remarriage and moving her two young sons to England. Lewis was opposed to sexual relations outside of marriage — this was well-known and something he wrote about. Joy, if the author is to be believed, was opposed to this, and yet we don’t have any “proof.” In Becoming Mrs. Lewis, she expresses great frustration that Lewis won’t sleep with her. Perhaps it is true, it would certainly be a human reaction.
But I’m not sure I learned a great deal about Joy. Like other reviewers, I’ve read Lewis’s work and seen the movie “Shadowlands,” and this is another retelling of a familiar story. I also wasn’t impressed by the snippets of Davidman’s writing the author chose to include. And yet, when I’d finished the book, I felt I’d experienced what a dying woman felt as she considered losing the man she loved. It’s not easy to get that right.
I received a complimentary digital copy of Becoming Mrs. Lewis from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline. It will be published in October, 2018.