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Certain Women

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Emma Wheaton has interrupted her successful stage career to attend to her dying father—the legedary screen actor David Wheaton. As the master performer grapples with an obsession over the one great role that has eluded him—that of the biblical King David—Emma confronts both the painful and healing memories of her tumultuous past. The stories of these two Davids and the women in their lives are simultaneously woven together and unraveled in a narrative rich in theatrical tradition and archetypal wisdom. In Certain Women, Madeleine L’Engle gives us an unforgettable portrait of the private struggles and blessings of family life. - See more at: http://www.madeleinelengle.com/books/...

370 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1992

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About the author

Madeleine L'Engle

243 books8,377 followers
Madeleine L'Engle was an American writer best known for her young adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Her works reflect her strong interest in modern science: tesseracts, for example, are featured prominently in A Wrinkle in Time, mitochondrial DNA in A Wind in the Door, organ regeneration in The Arm of the Starfish, and so forth.

"Madeleine was born on November 29th, 1918, and spent her formative years in New York City. Instead of her school work, she found that she would much rather be writing stories, poems and journals for herself, which was reflected in her grades (not the best). However, she was not discouraged.

At age 12, she moved to the French Alps with her parents and went to an English boarding school where, thankfully, her passion for writing continued to grow. She flourished during her high school years back in the United States at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, vacationing with her mother in a rambling old beach cottage on a beautiful stretch of Florida beach.

She went to Smith College and studied English with some wonderful teachers as she read the classics and continued her own creative writing. She graduated with honors and moved into a Greenwich Village apartment in New York. She worked in the theater, where Equity union pay and a flexible schedule afforded her the time to write! She published her first two novels during these years—A Small Rain and Ilsa—before meeting Hugh Franklin, her future husband, when she was an understudy in Anton Chekov's The Cherry Orchard. They married during The Joyous Season.

She had a baby girl and kept on writing, eventually moving to Connecticut to raise the family away from the city in a small dairy farm village with more cows than people. They bought a dead general store, and brought it to life for 9 years. They moved back to the city with three children, and Hugh revitalized his professional acting career. The family has kept the country house, Crosswicks, and continues to spend summers there.

As the years passed and the children grew, Madeleine continued to write and Hugh to act, and they to enjoy each other and life. Madeleine began her association with the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, where she has been the librarian and maintained an office for more than thirty years. After Hugh's death in 1986, it was her writing and lecturing that kept her going. She has now lived through the 20th century and into the 21st and has written over 60 books and keeps writing. She enjoys being with her friends, her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren."


Copyright © 2007 Crosswicks, Ltd. (Madeleine L'Engle, President)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 144 reviews
Profile Image for Mike.
199 reviews23 followers
March 8, 2008
C. S. Lewis and Tolkien would have loved to argue over this book. I will start by saying that I believe L'Engle to be the greatest female author of the 20th century in any language. That said, this is her worst book. So why am I reviewing it? I put the lack of quality in the writing...or more accurately in the plot...to the immense pressure put on L'Engle by the Spiritual/Christian community. This is not unlike what writers such as Anne Rice and Annie Lamott are facing these days. Once people discover that you share some of their belief system, they want to claim the rest of your writing as their own. So where do Lewis and Tolkien come into this? Lewis felt that a spiritual writer should be open about their beliefs in composing fiction. Tolkien felt that all beliefs should be underpinnings and never completely emerge into the story or affect the plot. They should always be able to be traced, but never delineated. I suspect that this book by L'Engle was her homage to the people who had heard she believed in God and wanted her to "out" herself. If you read the entire oeuvre of her work, you'll see her beliefs everywhere.
44 reviews1 follower
December 6, 2007
This may be one of my favorite books of all time. Part of it is how and when this book came to me. My mother was an avid reader; she ATE books is more accurate. But when she was sick at the end of her life she wasn't able to enjoy reading any more. This book was one of a very few on her night stand when she died. I'm not sure if she ever finished reading it or not, but there were a few marks from pages that had been dog eared along the way, so I hope she did. It's the story of a family, a New York City family that loosely parallels the family of King David from the bible. The central charachter is a woman who must find her way, along with the help of her father's many wives over the years, and her sisters, and the many other women who cross her path. The central question which confronts us all in life is set out for her by a friend - we all face moments in our lives where we must decide... do we go to the funeral or do we go to the wedding? This is the choice of our lives.
Profile Image for Jenny.
920 reviews89 followers
July 3, 2016
I'm so glad I read this after reading The Crosswicks Journal. It was interesting to see how many parallels between L'Engle's own life and Emma Wheaton's there are. I like the concept of comparing King David to David Wheaton, of a dying actor who's looking back on his life and his many wives and children. I like the way the narration switches between the past and the present as Emma remembers certain parts of her life. I like that the women, King David's and David Wheaton's, are highlighted and respected in this novel. If it weren't for the strength of the women, the characters' lives would have fallen apart. I like the reconciliation and the ending. I like the theme and L'Engle's theology/philosophy, as usual.
What didn't I like? Maybe the characters weren't as well-developed as they could be. Some scenes are rushed, particularly the resolution. But still, it's a good book, one that I've already given dog-eared pages to, one that is easy to read, that I wanted to read quickly to know what happens, and one that I'll remember fondly.
Profile Image for AmyintheWind.
89 reviews
September 26, 2009
I knew shortly after picking up this book that the reviews would be very mixed. I have to admit I really enjoy this kind of book, though it's less of a novel and more of a philosophical narrative. I appreciate L'Engle's insight into the David story, but, even more, I admire her ability to move to an from present to past and back again. There were some very beautiful transitions from one to the other. L'Engle always brings something new to the table with regard to faith and God. I appreciate the easy-going nature of the spirituality she portrays in her books. Her characters are, indeed, gracious and insightful. Another reviewer sites them as not believable for this reason. I have to say that real people *do* exist with this kind of grace, patience, joy, and insight. It's refreshing to see a book with characters who have decent communication skills and self awareness.
28 reviews15 followers
September 8, 2008
This book is an example of Madeline L'Engle's penchant for creating intensely detailed, insular worlds that, on the surface seem so capable of being real but are truly populated by people that are unimaginably gracious, talented, dedicated, polite, interesting, and graceful.

This book is the story of a young woman who, will sitting on a sailboat with her dying father, is remembering her life in a family that had many children, many mothers, and one grand patriarchal figure around which the rest of them resolved, like carousal horses on the merry-go-round.

Fans of Madeline L'Engle's character Katherine Forrester from "A Severed Wasp" and "A Small Rain" will find a familiar tone and familiar characters in this novel.

Profile Image for Apryl Anderson.
881 reviews28 followers
July 27, 2011
Amazingly good for it's depth and truth. Simple lives are so complex, and nobody but Madeline L'Engle can create characters with such light and shadow. This novel shows her gift of presenting the human condition in all its comedy and tragedy. (This is no sci-fi thriller, if that's what you're looking for.)
Profile Image for Bob.
1,856 reviews621 followers
December 16, 2016
Summary: As actor David Wheaton dies of cancer, his daughter joins him on the Portia and as they re-read the unfinished script of Emma's estranged husband Nik on King David, they consider the parallels with their own lives, and struggle to come to terms with life in its brokenness, and its joys.

Madeleine L'Engle was best know for her Young Adult fiction work, A Wrinkle in Time, and the sequels to that work. For a time she was married to a successful actor, who she lost to cancer, and wrote about in several works, and I suspect draws upon in writing this. It was my familiarity with her other work that led me to pick up this book when I spotted it in a second hand store (I don't believe it is in print at present).

The story is that of the last summer of actor, David Wheaton, dying of cancer, diagnosed as he finished one of the ultimate roles of his life, playing King Lear, in which his daughter Emma also had a role. Now Emma, estranged from playwright husband Nik, is with him on the Portia, along with David's ninth wife (!) Alice, a physician, cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest, David's favorite place to be when not in New York.

As David muses and tries to sum up his life, he keeps turning to an unfinished play Nik was writing, on the life and wives of King David. Nik had envisioned Wheaton in the title role, and as David reads sections of the unfinished script, he considers the parallels between King David and his wives, and his own nine marriages, the children from those marriages, and both the wondrous moments, and the brokenness such an unusual family inevitably brings.

It is not only David who is attempting to come to peace with and work out the relationships and mistakes of his life. Emma, relatively fresh from separating from Nik, also is wrestling with what had come between them, and the loves and losses she experienced in this family as well, again with parallels to the family of David. Yet oddly, although her parallel is Tamar, it is Abigail, David's second wife to whom she is drawn, as well as to David Wheaton's second wife who comes to visit, also an Abigail, who share with her the experience of losing children.

Eventually, a number of the surviving family arrive, along with Nik. Key in this narrative is the question is how do we come to terms with brokenness and failure, and the paradox of both a love of life, and the darkness of our flawed beings and that we often bring down upon ourselves and others? And with that is the question of what it means to choose life, and love while being these kind of people. Perhaps this is captured most succinctly in a question described by a wise Native American woman, Norma, who spoke of being at a crossroads in her own life and having to choose between a funeral, and a wedding.

Much of this is a story of the wives, and the daughter, Emma, that loved David Wheaton, and much of the conversation, remembered or present occurs between these women, particularly between Emma, Alice, and Abby. The dialogue between these women is perhaps what makes this book stand out, as they listen, choose to uncover pain, explore, wonder and tenderly share whatever wisdom is to be had at the time. At one point, they talk about "friendships of the heart," in contrast to romantic relationships, particularly between those of the same gender. There is a kind of understanding, of care in the relationships in this book that indeed characterize such friendship of the heart, that is far too rare, and wonderful to behold in this work.

If indeed this work is out of print, I hope it will not always be so. There is a quality of writing here to be savored, even as it wrestles with both life and death, and the dynamics of human relationships, particularly within families and between men and women. One senses in this a writer who wrote out of her own rich experiences of love, loss, brokenness, and yet joy in life, in which every word of dialogue seems to ring true.
Profile Image for Katrice.
214 reviews25 followers
January 13, 2016
So. What can I say about my first "Adult" L'Engle book? Well, first of all, its rather masterfully done. She tells one whole story using three separate timelines. One timeline is a "cliffnotes" retelling of the story of the Biblical King David and his many wives. One is a description of the childhood and growing up years of Emma, the daughter of an actor called David. And yet another timeline is the "present" where Emma tends to her dying father David.

Sounds confusing? Well it's tough to describe but as you actually read the book it does make sense. Biblical David and his many wives and supposed to parallel the life of actor David and his many wives and children. So we see their triumphs and tragedy's played out as actor David lies dying and Emma, his "fav" daughter tries to cope with the idea of her dad no longer being a presence.

Masterfully done as usual with L'Engle. Even if this is set in the real world there is a dreamy quality to it. The plot shows her usual obsession with past myths and how they are still in someway relevant today. The usual quiet morality play/pagent. It's not bad.

Mostly my take away? My god. King David's life and reign were so telenovela. I don' remember it being so telenovela. Am actually a bit curious to read those bits of the Bible now.
Profile Image for Sarah.
311 reviews14 followers
May 31, 2011
I simply adore Madeleine L’Engle’s writing – which is precisely why I limit my reading of her books. When I run out of new ones, I will be completely heartbroken. She has the most amazing vocabulary! This book is incredibly powerful and emotionally charged. Emma Wheaton has to be one of the most beautiful characters out in the literary universe – mainly because of her life’s journey. The parallels L’Engle weaves between the Biblical characters and her own aren’t just entertaining, they’re influential. You find yourself asking the same questions as the characters themselves, “Why?” and “when?” and “what the…?” While I wasn’t pleased with all of David Wheaton’s family members, it only serves to show me that I wasn’t pleased with all of King David’s either, and that – Biblical or not – people will always make mistakes and will have to come to terms with the consequences of those mistakes. People will always be falling in love, and hurting each other, and struggling to find ways to forgive and be forgiven.
Profile Image for Michelle.
348 reviews20 followers
January 26, 2016
I am not totally sure how I finished Certain Women, by Madeleine L'Engle. It's a book about people talking about a script and the biblical King David while a real patriarch, former actor David Wheaton, says goodbye to his various wives, children, and loved ones. In a lot of ways, it felt like being at a party where everyone is very close except for you, and they are all too absorbed in their own in-jokes and obsessions to really be a host. They'll explain the in-joke, but if you try to change the subject to something everyone can talk about, they'll steer it right back around to the history of David Wheaton's love life, and his children, and how they parallel King David's wives and children.

This had the action of a character study, but there was so much talk/description and almost no action/demonstration, that I still felt like the characters came off pretty flat.
Profile Image for TC.
66 reviews
August 20, 2008
Certain Women is one of Madeleine L'Engle's grown-up books. This particular story centered on the world of theatre and the world of ancient prophets and kings. In this novel, the main character Emma is facing marital problems and the impending death of her father. Her father shares memories of acting/and the theatre with his daughter. David, appropriately named, is obsessed with completing a play about King David before his death. The play was written by Emma's estranged husband. The irony is that the old David has had several wives and plenty of children through the years and feels an affinity to the Biblical king. It was with great sadness when I read that Madeleine died. She was one of the modern greats.
120 reviews
March 27, 2009
This is the first "adult" book I've read of Madeleine L'Engles. The story of a dying patriarch whose life and family somewhat mirrored that of King David. The comparisons of the two and the nonsequential plot made it somewhat confusing. But it kept my interest.
Profile Image for Rachel.
66 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2008
When I was a young whipper-snapper, L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series was one of my favorites. This book, more adult fiction genre, was just okay. Readable but not great.
Profile Image for Florinda.
318 reviews133 followers
March 1, 2012
I've read a lot of Madeleine L'Engle's fiction, and generally prefer the novels that are targeted to a young-adult audience. Having said that, I believe Certain Women may be her strongest work of "adult" fiction. I first read it in the mid-'90s and found it memorable; now, re-reading it for a Faith and Fiction Roundtable discussion, I'll declare it my favorite of her adult novels as well. There's an abundance of thematic meat to this novel, but L'Engle does not sacrifice creation of distinctive characters or a compelling storyline in order to mine it; rather, she employs them well in exploring it.

At the age of eighty-seven and facing his imminent death from cancer, renowned stage actor David Wheaton can't let go of the one role he never had the opportunity to play: his Biblical namesake, King David, in a play to be written by his son-in-law Nik Green and co-starring his actress daughter, Nik's wife Emma Wheaton. The much-married actor has often dwelled on the similarities between his life and the king's, and as he gradually brings his remaining family members together to say their goodbyes, his reflections stir memories and conversation about their past, present - and particularly for Emma, their future.[

This novel was originally published in 1992 and takes place in the mid-twentieth century, but the Wheaton family is a strikingly modern one - a highly blended one, in particular. Perhaps it's because different social and moral rules have long seemed to govern the acting world in which the family lives, but there's little flinching from David's many marriages, or over the children that several of those marriages produced. The children know each other as siblings and spend a fair amount of time together - although, as in any family, some are closer than others - and a few of the wives and ex-wives have even managed to become friends, as they are involved in raising one another's children. A few have remained close to their former husband, as well. Due to the early departure of her mother from the scene, daughter Emma grew up closest to her father, and is the first of David's children to join him and his last wife, doctor Alice, on the houseboat where he is spending the last days of his life.

Those days are spent in reading and reminiscing, frequently returning to the topic of Nik's aborted King David play and flashing back to how it developed. There's a lot of quoting from the Old Testament and discussion of the motivations of Biblical characters in these scenes, accompanied with efforts to draw parallels between the two Davids' stories. In other hands, this could bring the story to one expositional stop after another, but L'Engle makes it work in character for her characters, and it adds depth. On this reading, I was more impressed than I recall being previously by L'Engle's skill at making conversations between her characters on topics of theology and morality sound natural, and not preachy or sermon-like. One way that she makes it work is by giving her characters different worldviews...and while some of her women (and men) may be "certain," they're not inflexible. And in trying to make Old Testament stories meaningful in the context of New Testament beliefs, I think it helps not to be too overly certain in one's thinking.

Madeleine L'Engle has written a number of nonfiction works concerning religion and spirituality, and spent much of her life active in the Episcopal Church, often at New York City's Cathedral of St. John the Divine. She also acted on stage prior to becoming a writer, and was married to a stage and television actor. Certain Women draws on her familiarity with these two seemingly opposed worlds, exploring themes of family, forgiveness, and the meaning of marriage in a Biblically-inspired but thoroughly contemporary story. I'm glad I had this chance re-read it, and pleased that I'm able to appreciate it better this time around.
Profile Image for Nadine Keels.
Author 40 books172 followers
March 4, 2014
I appreciate the rhythm of L'Engle's prose and development (which I first got a real sense of when I read A Severed Wasp.) She has an unceremonious, almost offhand, way of telling the reader pivotal information, like, "Yes, reader, you read correctly. That happened. Now we're going to deal with it--but not too quickly." It's a deft cadence of storytelling.

I found Certain Women to be heavy reading, also like A Severed Wasp, only this novel felt long to me at points, like during some of the characters' conversations about King David and his family, much of which I didn't particularly enjoy. I've read and heard about these accounts several times before, and I realize the novel wouldn't make sense if the reader didn't know those details of King David's life, but I'm bent toward thinking that actually taking the reader back to those times through the narrator might have been more interesting than having the present characters sit and relay the facts to each other at different times.

"Then King David did this, then he said that. Then what happened?"

"He did something else. Right?"

"Oh, yes, he did that. Then Abigail said this to him."

If I wasn't a read-every-word kind of reader, I might have skipped or skimmed over the fact-giving chats to get back to the story.

Yet, I somehow get the sense that there is something in the essence of this novel that I likely missed, that if I were to reread it ten or twenty years from now, I would catch something in it that I wasn't quite able to put my finger on, this time around. It's an intriguing notion.
Profile Image for Tracy.
Author 3 books15 followers
April 9, 2014
I have tremendous respect for Madeleine L'Engle's writing. I read all of her children's novels before I was twelve years old. When I was 13 and formally allowed to check out books from the adult room in the library, I read all of her adult novels. My feelings about the book are certainly tied up with my respect of her life's accomplishments. In my opinion, this is her weakest novel, and had this been written by any other author, I likely would have given it 2 stars.

Why did I give it 3 stars? Sometimes the people I love best are not in their best form; and still I enjoy their company, would rather spend time with them than with querulous strangers.

Why did it deserve only 2 stars? The plot is too complicated and there are too many characters, none of whom are well-developed. This book was published in 1992. The story is set in the US, New York and east coast, Puget Sound and occasional jaunts into Georgia, from 1920's through the 1950's. The time, however, is hazy--there is nothing specific to ground us in the era, other than off-hand references to "The War" meaning WWII.

What did I like about it? The idea, of translating the biblical story of King David's many wives into a contemporary setting, although not perfectly executed, was compelling enough to keep me reading.

Who might enjoy this book?Devoted L/Engle fans. I doubt anyone else would like it.
1 review2 followers
November 18, 2015
Madeleine L'Engle is my favorite author; I read the Time Quartet in junior high, and found her adult novels when I was on bedrest with my third baby. I love that despite the heft of the subject matters, I always finish one of her books feeling hopeful.
Because Certain Women is so dear to me, I chose to use it in a high school woman's literature class that I'm teaching. It's a very (very!) hard book to teach. The constant flashbacks and slow pace made it difficult for my students to follow and stay interested, and as much as I love it, I probably won't teach it again.

For myself, though, I love the connections and the revelations that the flashbacks provide. I love the overall theme of moving through before moving on, and the prose is beautiful. I think I loved it more the second time, and I would guess that it takes at least two readings to really 'get' it.
735 reviews3 followers
April 30, 2017
A revered actor is dying and members of his large family are gathering to say good-bye. The actor, David Wheaton, has been obsessed with his namesake, King David of the Old Testament. There are obvious parallels between the two, due primarily to the large number of wives that each had. The husband of Emma (David's closest daughter) had been writing a play about King David and his wives, in which both David and Emma would star, but now it's been abandoned. My feeling is that such a play would be extremely unwieldy because of the large number of characters. The book suffers from this a bit as well, even though the focus is primarily on David, Emma, and her husband Nik. Another problem is that David's marital history must be reviewed at the beginning, in order to identify all the wives and children. When Emma at one point criticizes Nik's play by saying, "It won't play well. You usually show what's happening, and here you're telling," I thought, "Exactly!"
Profile Image for Chesna.
58 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2018
I'm uncertain about this book. Madeleine L'Engle's work is full of brilliance, and the kind of theological originality that feels like something you once knew but forgot. This is a wonderful story with rich characters, but the dialogue felt plodding, didactic, heavy-handed in a way that almost trivializes what should be simmering under the surface. I read this book slowly, so I connected with a few of the characters. But so much more could be done in 350 pages. There's rich wisdom here that should be gentle, and it isn't.
Profile Image for Cyndy Aleo.
Author 10 books69 followers
May 21, 2011
Most people are probably familiar with Madeleine L'Engle from her young adult novels, such as the Newbury Award winner, A Wrinkle in Time. However, she has also written many books for adults, including her journals and novels.

L'Engle's novels for adults are often similar in theme to her young adult novels, intertwining self-reflection with spiritual themes, and usually giving at least a passing mention to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and the surrounding neighborhood, where L'Engle herself often lived.

::: A Story of Two Davids :::

As Certain Women opens, we are introduced to Emma Wheaton and her father, David, both New York stage actors. David is dying, and Emma has come to spend the summer with him and his eighth wife on his boat, the Portia to say her goodbyes.

However, Emma has more to come to terms with than her father's terminal illness. Her marriage to a celebrated playwright, Nik Green, appears to be over, and as she and her father remember the past, they are drawn together over an aborted play of Nik's based on the Bible story of King David and his wives. The parallels between David Wheaton's life and that of the Biblical King force both father and daughter to face ghosts of the past and make their peace before David died.

::: Telling the Story :::

As with many of her novels, L'Engle switches constantly between plot lines. Through Nik's play, we see the story of David and his wives, and through Emma's viewpoint, we also learn David Wheaton's past as well as see his present as family members come to say goodbye, including two of his ex-wives. As David and Emma confront each memory, we also see how closely his life has followed that of the Hebrew King's, as well as where their fates are dissimilar.

Emma is also forced to look at her marriage to Nik when he comes to visit her father, as well as how her grief over events in her lives has impacted her marriage as well as her life.

::: Goliath Can't Be Vanquished That Easily :::

L'Engle, who has shown what a light hand she can have at interweaving religious elements with her secular plotlines, is so heavy-handed with this story that you feel as if you are reading the script for a Star Wars film. Look! The father's name is David! And he's had all these wives! And his wife Abigail is the wise friend, even after the divorce, just like the wise Abigail in the Bible story! It's funny that in the course of re-reading some of L'Engle's books in order to review them, I find my two least favorite, but Certain Women is one of maybe two books of hers that I really can't say I loved.

From the very beginning, you can spot the ending of the story, and the huge cast of characters means that far too many get short shrift in character development. Even for a die-hard L'Engle fan like myself, there just isn't enough meat here, unlike her other fiction for adults. I just didn't find myself caring enough about Emma or her family, no matter what tragedy or triumph she dealt with. While the advice given to Emma is to choose a wedding in life over a funeral, the book doesn't take its own advice.

This review previously published on Epinions: http://www.epinions.com/review/Certai...
Profile Image for Amanda.
105 reviews18 followers
January 21, 2008
It has been difficult going from "A Wrinkle in Time" to this. I picked it up shortly after L'Engle's death a few months ago, mostly for nostalgic reasons, and also to read another book by a truly incredible author.

The story follows David - a broadway actor who is sailing with his wife and daughter recounting his life. David is dying and there is nothing to do but wait. David's life is paralleled with King David - including the multiple wifes and numerous children. David always wanted to do a play about King David and spends much of the book replaying the play with his daughter, whose husband (who she is currently separated from) was supposed to pen.

It's interesting, though a bit disjointed. The conversations seem forced - as if L'Engle wanted to give those unfamiliar with King David a cliff notes to his life. And while David's search to justify or come to terms with his life parallels the task King David must have undergone - it comes out as David's biggest regret and leaves me wondering if he would really spend his last days dwelling on the play that never was.

Also, L'Engle is slow to reveal details. Her use of suggestion vs. lack of information is more annoying than captivating. And the combination of flash backs, talks about King David, and present time events is jumbled and unorganized.

While it is interesting and could serve as a good book club novel - it's not one of L'Engle's better stories.
Profile Image for Amanda.
260 reviews6 followers
February 12, 2008
This was really an interesting idea for a book. The story is about an actor named David who bears several similarities to the biblical King David, namely the number of wives and children he has. The story jumps around between David's deathbed, her past and the story of King David, and it deals with a lot of different heavy and emotional issues, including adultery, miscarriage, rape, and a multitude of marriage problems. I love that this huge complicated family is so caring, that the past wives get along with each other and the current wife, that all the children truly love each other, it shows so much generosity and kindness. As an L'Engle fan I also enjoyed the Canon Tallis cameo, I love getting little glimpses like that of charactes you've met somewhere else. At one point in the story Emma criticizes Nik's play, saying that he has gotten too bogged down in dialogue, there are too many words and not enough action or demonstration. That is my only criticism, is that sometimes the relation of a story from one character to another feels too forced, not real enough, to be believable, it is too much butler and the maid, and the story may have been better served in some places by simple memory rather than dialogue between characters.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,268 reviews8 followers
May 24, 2013
Although I have been a huge fan of L’Engle’s YA fiction for years, I had never read any of her works for adults. While Certain Women did not provoke the instant sense of connection that I had with, say, A Wrinkle in Time, nonetheless I was able to appreciate the depiction of realistic characters and emotions. Emma is spending time with her father, the famous actor David Wheaton, as he is dying. They reminisce and read over scenes of an unproduced play that Emma’s husband, Nik, wrote about the biblical King David, and in this way they tell the parallel stories of King David’s many wives and David Wheaton’s multiple marriages. The biblical parts drag a bit (I can see why the play was never finished), and the spirituality that I loved in L’Engle’s YA books is applied with a too-heavy hand. However, there are some truly affecting sections, and I was happy to see that Canon Tallis has a bit part.
Profile Image for Jes.
505 reviews
March 29, 2016
Well, in general, I'm not a fan when authors try literary tools like overarching metaphors to try and say two things at once with their prose. It seems pretentious to me, and I really dislike quotations at the openings of each chapter. So, this book was going to be a big stretch for me, with the constant reference to King David and his wives. I really don't understand the decision to frame the plot around that. The story moves well and I cared most about Emma and Nik, not the history of her father's marriages. So, in my opinion, all the chapter titles and scripture references were the book trying on a more "serious book" costume, like Nik trying to write a drama when he is gifted at comedy.

I chose to start and finish 2 other books over reading this one, so that tells me I wasn't engaged. But I wanted to know what happened with Emma.

Still think L'Engle has important things to say. And I like that Tallis appeared in a cameo. :)
Profile Image for Anne.
266 reviews4 followers
March 25, 2012
A story within a story, following the end of actor David Wheaton's life as he comes to terms with his multiple marriages and children. The book is seen through the eyes of his daughter Emma, married to a playwright who is writing the life of King David as a play. L'Engle explores the parallels between David in the Book of Samuel and David Wheaton the actor in her usual ecumenical style (Emma is mainly raised by her fiery Baptist preacher grandfather, and her reasonable Episcopalian grandmother.) While at times L'Engle stretches a point to draw parallels between the biblical David and theatrical one, she mostly manages to keep all her balls in the air. Best to read in a short sitting though so you can keep all the various wives and children straight! I was happily surprised to find one of her books I hadn't read.
Profile Image for stephanie.
1,103 reviews381 followers
June 8, 2007
one of the first books i discovered at the st. john the divine bookstore (which tends to carry hard to find l'engle books, given that she's so tied to the church), and it was a radical departure for me. this was also one of her earliest books directed at an adult audience, rather than the ya-lit section.

it's the story of the women in the bible, specifically, abigail. like Many Waters, l'engle takes biblical verse and kind of fills in the blanks. she creates remarkably strong women in this story, who are both sympathetic and brave, and yet clearly women of the "time". she doesn't employ the use of the fantasy elements here, and the story is better because of it.
Profile Image for Melissa.
134 reviews9 followers
March 22, 2017
I WILL be loyal to L'Engle in this review. It is true L'Engle insight, beautiful, formal language, and content, but....
Reading it again about 10 years later I am disappointed in the trite dialogue between the characters and the lack of character development through description. I felt like they were all kind of fake-- in their dialogue, actions, motivations, etc.
Of course Emma was the L'Engle heroine I know so well and I was grateful of that.
Lastly, I have found an intriguing L'Engle character that I wish she would have brought back in another book. Norma peeked my curiosity. She was strong, comforting, spiritual, and has an interesting backstory... why couldn't the book have been more about her?

Profile Image for Sharon.
137 reviews14 followers
October 24, 2008
Certain Women was a good idea and should have been written by Walker Percy.
The story is about a man named David who had nine wives and how his life and wives and children's lives paralleled David's.
Madeleine L'Engle is interesting in her children's books. I even enjoyed them. But Certain Women was rough to read. I almost didn't finish it. The plot was an excuse to hear herself talk - which meant the plot was also very hard to find. The writing was just plain bad. The characters weren't believable at all and the character development in some of them was not enough to make you care when they died in the war or what have you. And to add insult to injury, she tried to switch around between the present, past, and future. How clever of her. No one's ever done that before.

Profile Image for Morgan.
558 reviews18 followers
January 13, 2015
I really wanted to enjoy this novel. I was excited to be reading an "adult" novel by one of my favorite YA authors. Unfortunately this novel got completely bogged down in the plot and backstory, to the detriment of the characters. I generally have no problem keeping track of many different characters, but since so many were merely spoken of or seen in flashback that I found myself regularly referring to the list at the beginning of the book. I found it impossible to connect emotionally to any of the characters and I found myself unable to find any sadness for the ailing patriarch, or his daughter the protagonist. Overall, I just found the novel tedious and wanted it to end. I'm not sure if I will try any more of Ms L'Engle's work for adults.
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