Patti Callahan’s just-published novel (Thomas Nelson; $25.99) is a fictional take on the story of Joy Davidman (1915-1960) and CS Lewis. I had previously seen and adored the film Shadowlands, so I came to the character of Joy Davidman informed by Debra Winger’s strong performance. Winger was actually very good, with not a lot of background information to go on, but Joy Davidman comes fully to life in this novel. Patti Callahan gets inside the head, heart, and psyche of a brilliant, unfulfilled woman poet who had already transitioned in her life from young artist/Communist in the 1930s to unhappy Christian wife married to an alcoholic fellow writer in upstate New York, and mother of two boys.
The literal and emotional journey Joy takes is quite remarkable, since it involves years of increasingly warm and intimate friendship in England in the 1950s with CS Lewis, an Oxford don and author of the Narnia books, as well as books on Christianity. But Joy wants much, much more from “Jack.” The tragedy of the story is that just as she gets what she wants, Lewis’s commitment and declaration of love, she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her ultimate fate is to be erased, albeit in a loving way. His protective shadow blurred her brilliance. Callahan sees some of the irony here, I believe, but also traces a beautiful and shatteringly real love story that changed both of these figures irrevocably. She restores something to Joy Davidman that had been lost to time.
The novel was published by a Christian press, but Joy’s edges and relatable struggles have thankfully not been softened. The snippets of her love sonnets that start the chapters (which, amazingly, were only rediscovered a few years ago!) are harrowing and beautiful windows to her soul. Callahan takes on the role of a literary daughter here, illuminating Joy Davidman Lewis as only a daughter could.
(I received an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review.)