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‘Becoming Mrs. Lewis’ a departure for author Patti Callahan Henry

Historical novel tells C.S. Lewis’ love story from his wife’s perspective

New York Times best-selling author Patti Callahan Henry didn’t intend to break rank with her new book, “Becoming Mrs. Lewis.” She already has a good thing going with her run of 12 novels in 13 years, each one a textbook example of Southern contemporary fiction revolving around a woman navigating family life and romantic relationships in evocative settings such as Savannah and coastal South Carolina.

Granted, some of her books had kernels of truth to them. “When I Found You” from 2013 is about a woman who places a child in adoption and reconnects with her later in life. Henry has openly talked about her sister being the inspiration for the story.But when Henry, 54, began reading about Joy Davidman, she promptly fell down a rabbit hole.Davidman was the wife of Oxford professor C.S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters.” She was a writer, too, and a considerable influence on Lewis’ work. But her writing was greatly overshadowed by his. “It wasn’t a deliberate departure,” said Henry, speaking of her new book from her home in Birmingham, Ala. “I just wanted to know this woman. The more I found out about her, the more I wanted to know, and the more I loved her.”

And that’s how Henry came to write a novel of historical fiction set in the 1950s. “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” starts with Davidman’s abusive marriage in upstate New York, where she struggles to find time to write while taking care of two young sons and an alcoholic husband. When her conversion to Christianity prompts her to begin a correspondence with Lewis, a well-known Christian apologist, a friendship forms, leading Davidman to visit him in Oxford, England, and the rest is history.

Henry’s intention to switch literary genres may not have been deliberate, but it was dramatic as far as the publishing world was concerned. So much so, that she had to go with a different publisher. Harper Collins is publishing “Becoming Mrs. Lewis,” while Penguin publishes her contemporary fiction. She also had to alter her name, dropping her married surname, Henry, for the new release. “That’s as far as I was willing to go,” she said, adding emphatically that the name change does not indicate a change in marital status. She’s still happily wed.

Henry will launch the book with an appearance at the Atlanta History Center on Oct. 2, which is also publication day and the due date for her first grandchild. After the event, she will head to Hawaii to spend time with her daughter, son-in-law and the new addition to their family. Henry also has two sons who are in college.

‘Becoming Mrs. Lewis’ by Patti Callahan. Contributed by Harper Collins