Why not .38?
Most casual shooters feed their .357's a steady diet of .38 Wadcutters. There are even decent .38 defense loads available now.
A perfect first revolver would be a Smith model 15(stainless version is the M-67 I think) with a 4" barrel. There has never been a better looking handgun and they are a perfect first handgun to learn on and master.
I have a 686 with 6" bbl and find it a little too big for me. A shorter barrel and smaller frame would be perfect for me.