The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

“My mother made a peach cobbler so good, it made God himself cheat on his wife.”

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a series of nine raw and deeply moving short stories. Compelling and captivating, these tales follow the tender places Black women and girls dare to follow their desires. 

The accounts in this collection feature four generations of women and girls confronting who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church's double standards, societal policies, and their own needs and desires.

The book opens with the story of Eula and Caroletta. It's the New Year's Eve, 2000, and the two are spending the night at a motel in Clarksville, Tennessee. Eula booked the room and Caroletta brought Eula's favourite potato salad. She bought it at the Publix added some chopped boiled egg, mustard, pickle relish, and paprika, then put it in her red Tupperware bowl. Eula just loves that potato salad, she'd never know it wasn't made from scratch. But that's not all she loves. She loves Caroletta too. 

We meet Olivia. Her mother's peach cobbler is so good it made God cheat on his wife. 

Entering the house after school she hears her mother cry "Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!" Olivia can hear God too, as he says "Yes, yes, yes!" 

Turns out God is Pastor Neely, and her mother makes that entire special 8x8” pan of peach cobbler every Monday just for him. 

The book closes with "Instructions for Married Christian Husbands", during which the narrator takes the reader on a passionate journey of desire, saying, "I want to be held, caressed, cupped, and grabbed. I also like lips and tongues and kissing. Deep, passionate, kisses, and biting."

What I thought

Powerfully raw and emotionally gripping. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies seized me from the moment I opened it. A recommendation from a friend, this book lived up to the hype, its prose penetrating and significant. These tales are filled with love, faith, longing, and desire. 

I bookmarked just about every page, and was tempted by my highlighter far too often. The girls and women are strong and vulnerable, and this book is simply gorgeous. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies left a lasting impression on me.

Courtesy of Deesha Philyaw

Author Deesha Philyaw was raised in Jacksonville, Florida. She received a BA in economics from Yale University and an MA in teaching from Manhattanville College. 

Although she’s been writing fiction for about 20 years, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is her debut novel. 

Her work before this was nonfiction, co-authoring books Co-parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce and So S/He Had an Affair: Writing to Keep From Losing Your Sh*t

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is available at Indigo and on Kobo. Check GoodReads for other retailers.

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