The best deliciously wry novels with Christian themes

Sandra Hutchison Author Of The Awful Mess: A Love Story
By Sandra Hutchison

Who am I?

As someone who grew up agnostic and somehow ended up an Episcopal Church lady, I’m intrigued by writers who deal with Christian belief respectfully without leaving their sense of humor behind. I don’t believe that faith is required to be moral—my nonreligious parents are more principled than many Christians I know—but I like to see characters work out that tension between what we’re taught in Scripture, what we believe or want to believe, and how we actually live it out in daily life (sins and all). I especially enjoy watching this happen in that peculiar petri dish of personalities that is any local church.


I wrote...

The Awful Mess: A Love Story

By Sandra Hutchison,

Book cover of The Awful Mess: A Love Story

What is my book about?

Thirty-something divorcee Mary seeks a fresh start in tiny, affordable Lawson, New Hampshire after her husband finally gets a woman pregnant, and it isn’t her. But Lawson’s unhappily-married Episcopal priest may be interested in more than just her heathen soul, and a handsome cop confuses her by supporting gay rights, but opposing sex before marriage.

Mary’s just beginning to open up to new possibilities when a crushing job loss, a scandalous secret, and a disintegrating ex threaten everything she has left. But in this witty and affectionate tale of small-town life, she may discover that the connections we make can result not only in terrifying risks, but unexpected blessings.

The books I picked & why

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The Monk Downstairs

By Tim Farrington,

Book cover of The Monk Downstairs

Why this book?

This is the story of a divorced mom who rents her downstairs apartment to a Catholic monk whose spiritual well has run dry twenty-three years into his vocation, leading him to walk away. I love disgruntled, disillusioned Mike, who can’t help being a stand-up guy, and whose ongoing, sometimes combative correspondence with a former colleague tracks the vagaries of his spiritual life. I love Rebecca and the way she handles insane emotional and practical responsibilities and somehow keeps on going. Most of all, I enjoy the understated, wry way these two fall in love. Farrington’s prose style is beautifully transparent, and he’s intelligent and funny about Christian belief and practice and about romance. There is also a good sequel, The Monk Upstairs.

The Monk Downstairs

By Tim Farrington,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Monk Downstairs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rebecca Martin is a single mother with an apartment to rent and a sense that she has used up her illusions. I had the romantic thing with my first husband, thank you very much, she tells a hapless suitor. I'm thirty-eight years old, and I've got a daughter learning to read and a job I don't quite like. I don't need the violin music. But when the new tenant in her in-law apartment turns out to be Michael Christopher, on the lam after twenty years in a monastery and smack dab in the middle of a dark night of the…


Saint Maybe

By Anne Tyler,

Book cover of Saint Maybe

Why this book?

Tyler is reliably warm and witty, and here we get to see her apply her trademark abilities to the story of a family of kids who are largely raised by their young Uncle Ian, who cuts short his own college education when he feels responsible for them losing their parents. Ian seeks redemption in raising them within the embrace of the entertainingly funky Church of the Second Chance. Ian is such a good member, the minister eventually tries to recruit him as his successor, which of course, would mean yet more responsibility. I couldn’t help but root for these incredibly vivid characters. And in its treatment of churches and church folks, Saint Maybe manages to be extremely funny and yet not at all disparaging. 

Saint Maybe

By Anne Tyler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Saint Maybe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning author brings us the story of Ian Bedloe, the ideal teenage son, leading a cheery, apple-pie life with his family in Baltimore. That is, until a careless and vicious rumor leads to a devastating tragedy.

Imploding from guilt, Ian believes he is the one responsible for the tragedy. No longer a star athlete with a bright future, and desperately searching for salvation, he stumbles across a storefront with a neon sign that simply reads: CHURCH OF THE SECOND CHANCE.

Ian has always viewed his penance as a burden. But through the…


Father Melancholy's Daughter

By Gail Godwin,

Book cover of Father Melancholy's Daughter

Why this book?

This novel traces the coming of age of the only child, a daughter, of a very traditional Episcopal priest. He struggles with depression, a failed marriage, and his work. She struggles to keep up her father’s spirits and tend to his household, as well as with the abandonment of them by her mother and with the question of who she shall be when she isn’t just tending to her dad. Ultimately, she arrives at a calling of her own. It’s a warm-hearted, leisurely novel that also can be quite comical about church people and human interaction of all kinds, but also treats faith seriously. (There’s also a good sequel that takes us into her ministry, Evensong.)     

Father Melancholy's Daughter

By Gail Godwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Father Melancholy's Daughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A moving story of a father/daughter relationship set in present day small town America.


A Prayer for Owen Meany

By John Irving,

Book cover of A Prayer for Owen Meany

Why this book?

This is a big sprawling Dickensian novel, ambitious and unapologetically political and wildly comic without sacrificing feeling. Owen Meany seems to live to speak truth to power, in all caps to represent his strange "wrecked" voice. He's also tiny and suffers many indignities because of it, which may be why he’s so ferocious. I don't know that this novel would ever persuade a non-believer to believe in God (what novel would?), but Owen Meany certainly believes, and he frequently schools everyone around him. Also, if you've ever belonged to a church, you really shouldn’t miss the funniest Christmas pageant scenes ever written. 

A Prayer for Owen Meany

By John Irving,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Prayer for Owen Meany as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A work of genius' Independent

'Marvellously funny . . . What better entertainment is there than a serious book which makes you laugh?' Spectator

'If you care about something you have to protect it. If you're lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.'

Summer, 1953. In the small town of Gravesend, New Hampshire, eleven-year-old John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany are playing in a Little League baseball game. When Owen hits a foul ball which kills John's mother, their lives are changed in an instant.

It…


Mansfield Park

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Mansfield Park

Why this book?

Fanny and Edmund, the heroine and hero, never develop the chemistry on the page one might wish for, but I still enjoy this biting moral satire. Fanny is an object of charity, quiet and meek and poor, but somehow has the strength to stand up for herself. Meanwhile, the liveliest, most attractive characters in this book are Mary and Henry Crawford—but are they good? Jane Austen was herself the daughter of an Anglican vicar, and if you read this with that in mind, you’ll notice that the entertainingly awful Aunt Norris is a vicar’s widow, that the new vicar’s family introduces temptation into the neighborhood; and that our hero, about to be a vicar himself, is at genuine risk of being seduced into something very bad indeed. 

Mansfield Park

By Jane Austen,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Mansfield Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Full of the energies of discord - sibling rivalry, greed, ambition, illicit sexual passion and vanity' Margaret Drabble

Jane Austen's profound, ambiguous third novel is the story of Fanny Price, who is accustomed to being the poor relation at Mansfield Park, the home of her wealthy plantation-owning uncle. She finds comfort in her love for her cousin Edmund, until the arrival of charismatic outsiders from London throws life at the house into disarray and brings dangerous desires to the surface. Mansfield Park is Austen's most complex work; a powerful portrayal of change and continuity, scandalous misdemeanours and true integrity.

Edited…


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