Monday, October 9, 2017

The Stolen Marriage ~ Diane Chamberlain (earc) review [@StMartinsPress @D_Chamberlain]

The Stolen Marriage
St Martin's Press
October 03, 2017
384 pages
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From perennial bestseller Diane Chamberlain, a compelling new novel

In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behavior and save her own life?

I don't think I have changed my mind about characters o much (both in frequency and degree) in any other book as I did in The Stolen Marriage. There were characters I thought were innocent and sweet, then they would do or say something and I would realize they were a bit more hardened. Or, characters that seemed horrible would prove they had a heart. I really enjoyed getting such a full picture of the characters, and of their character.

The Stolen Marriage is about a time in American history about which much has been written - both fiction and fact - but includes things that have not been written about so heavily. I knew a tiny bit about polio and approximately when it was such an issue but this novel does a fantastic job putting all of the elements of the time together: the polio epidemics, World War II, issues of race and religion. Seeing everything within the context of the time period (and the North Carolina setting) really made it feel more real and helped you relate to the characters.

I really liked the way Tess's personal beliefs and her views on current, social issues were presented. Not because I always liked what she thought or how she felt about things but because it all seemed a very good representation of where and how she was brought up. I appreciated that the author did not make her someone affected by our hindsight. She was a young, Italian nursing student from Baltimore in the 1940's and the book was better for the fact that she fit within that time period but we also got to see her grow and her world view evolve.

Diane Chamberlain's The Stolen Marriage is an enjoyable historical fiction, about something within the World War II era that doesn't feature so often in fiction: the polo epidemic. The characters seem very true of the time period, they change and grow and everything from their relationships to their secrets play a part in everything coming together.

(Was Tess supposed to make me think of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by the way? Or rid it make anyone else think of her/the book?)

digital copy received from publisher for review

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