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 find myself at a loss for words with this one. If it wasn’t an ARC, I probably wouldn’t even write a review for this book, because I’m not sure how to put my thoughts on the page. I feel both icky and meh at the same time.
Tess is an confident, intelligent woman–about to graduate with her nursing degree in the middle of both WWII and a polio epidemic–and yet the whole book revolves around what men want of her life. I realize it’s the 40s, but it was very frustrating to see such a brilliant woman beaten down over and over.
She is the victim of date rape. There’s no getting around it really. She was totally wasted, and wasn’t sure of herself, not able to fully consent. But the whole book, she defends Henry and blames herself.
There’s also a whole lot of racism in this book. It starts with Tess being Italian, moving into a white Baptist neighborhood, and goes downhill with lots of references to the “colored” servants. It’s extremely cringeworthy. There’s also undertones that something is going on in secret, leading up to the big twist…and I’ve discussed before how I feel about using people’s marginalizations as a plot twist.
Can we not?
Chamberlain does give some explanation of her choices in response to this review. I still don’t feel great about them, and the reviewer does a good job explaining the same reasons I feel icky, especially regarding the date rape. I know this book will still be a bestseller, because of how popular the author is, but it isn’t a book I recommend.
St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley provided an ARC for my unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.