Marriage to the man at the pulpit is an ordeal of biblical proportions for a trio of wives in this uneven debut from former Time reporter Cullen.
Ruthie and Jerry fulfill our expectations of New Yorkers—he works in finance, she in PR, and they live busy lives filled with takeout and friends. Then Jerry is called to God. Ruthie, a lapsed Catholic, is stunned but supportive when Jerry announces he is quitting Wall Street to work for an evangelical megachurch in Georgia. She always knew Jerry was spiritual (after all, they met while he was a theology student), but their religious differences seemed irrelevant to their urban life. Soon enough, the two are on the campus of the Greenleaf Church, where staff and parishioners are encouraged to drive green hybrids, use the church’s store and cafe, enjoy the Christian-themed yoga studio and enroll the kids in their day care. Ruthie and Jerry are housed in the same gated community where the church’s charismatic leader, Aaron Green, and his wife, Candace, live. Ruthie is strangely nonplused by their move to a Southern-style Stepford and is in fact impressed by first lady Candace. While Jerry is turning into Pastor Green’s right-hand man, Ruthie makes friends with Ginger, Candace and Aaron’s daughter-in-law. Ginger is often alone with her two small children (while her husband happily jets around the world on disaster relief missions), at the mercy of Candace’s haughty commands. When Ginger’s past (an Internet porn career before she was saved and married) comes to light, Candace shows everyone how to play hardball. Meanwhile, Ruthie fears that she and Jerry are drifting apart and that he is seeing the choir’s lead singer, a true believer, which is something Ruthie will never be. Though Cullen’s story occasionally feels like a juicy secret revealed, the novel lacks a consistent authorial point of view. Filled with Bible verses and an insider’s unquestioning acceptance of evangelicalism (the novel could do well in the Christian fiction market), it fails to fully examine Ruthie’s role as outsider until the end.
A case of a reporter’s objectivity failing the needs of fiction.