I could list some legit criticisms of this book, and other reviewers have. But the bottom line is this: holy cow, this is a masterpiece of poetic beauty! Patti Callahan has a style and grace with words that is just plain divine and God-given.
“England embraced us with cold, foggy arms.” “Ripples radiating outward, a circle of misplaced water that reached the shore’s edge to dance with the fall grass.” “Flowers outrageous in their glory, raindrops settling in the cups of their raised faces.” I don’t personally have the DNA to dream up such lovely word pictures, but I extravagantly admire those who have been so blessed.
I’m a fan of C. S. Lewis, and did enjoy both film versions of “Shadowlands,” so I was grateful when my wife passed this book on to me. Readers should know that the familiar story from the films/play aren’t much in this telling. The arranged civil wedding, the cancerous collapse, the remission, the deathbed nuptials . . . all happen in the last 12 percent of Patti’s gripping story. But she delivers exactly what she promises: the saga of how two fascinating idealists defy the odds to fall in love.
Some can rightly object that Joy Gresham is sometimes an unappealing figure: pushy, brash, way too full of herself. She injects herself and two sons into Jack Lewis’s life in a way most of us would find hugely intrusive and demanding. But it’s part of the story, and C. S. Lewis bears it with grace.
My one small critique would link to the poetic beauty of Callahan’s writing. Sometimes in conversations between the two – and these are understandably fictional recreations – the same metaphor-dripping tone creeps in. They’re still classic moments, but now don’t ring quite as true. Right when they both realize she’s dying, the scene gets somewhat maudlin, or what I sometimes call “Aaron Sorkin-y.” Great for the stage, but too artificial for an actual ICU.
Still, that is a minor criticism. You will want to read this fine tale in one sitting and savor the beauty of how Callahan tells this story.
The finest line in the book comes near to the grim ending. Joy Gresham reflects on the hand she and Jack have been dealt by the Lord, and quietly concludes: “Just because we love God and are committed to him doesn’t mean we are exempt from the pain and loss in this world. We can’t ask to be the exceptions.”
Spread the word, because this book is a jewel to treasure.