This is a cross post from my book blog, The True Book Addict.
I must get one thing off my chest at the outset. Once again, I find myself very frustrated by how women were treated in the past. In our present times, when a woman’s husband dies, she has rights. In most cases, she is the executor of her husband’s estate and is usually the beneficiary of the life insurance and/or will. Of course, there are cases where a will may be in probate or a man may not leave anything to his wife (mostly in some cases of wealthy marriages), but for the most part, a woman has the right to her husband’s possessions and/or money upon his death without having to worry about a family member (or other person) bullying in on her territory. Not so in ages past and nowhere is this fact more apparent than in The Rebel Wife. Augusta’s husband, Eli, has died and she was under the impression that they were a well-off, well-settled family. Not according to her cousin, Judge. But she is getting conflicting stories from him and Eli’s trusted and loyal servant as to the truth about the money. And Judge’s treatment of Augusta, his literally taking over everything and treating her like she has no rights, is beyond infuriating. Mr. Polites does an excellent job of portraying exactly the situation that would have occurred back then and, although infuriating, it is the reality of the way things were.
I must say that it’s interesting that I would be reviewing this book for Tribute Books at the same time that I’m also reading Gone with the Wind. The contrasts between Polites’s portrayal of reconstruction in the south and Mitchell’s are profound. Now don’t get me wrong. I still love Gone with the Wind, but one must appreciate Polite’s non-stereotypical depiction of the times. While Mitchell made the freed slaves seem comical in many ways, Polites has shown a more surly side to these people, who had so much hope in their future as free men, only to discover that things were not going to be any better for them. Perhaps even worse. This surliness is believable and certainly understandable. And though we appreciate the plucky and resourceful Scarlett O’Hara, the reality is that she would not have been able to accomplish what she did in those times. And the dastardly Rhett Butler with the heart of gold. There aren’t any of his sort in this book. The war has broken these men and made them angry, greedy, and dangerous. And so, we read Gone with the Wind for the entertaining story of Scarlett’s exploits, but The Rebel Wife is to be read and enjoyed for it’s historical accuracy.
On a final note, I must say that this book is beautifully written and it’s quite obvious that it was meticulously researched. For a history buff like me, this is the best kind of historical fiction. A book that allows a reader to experience the realities of the past and really feel it on a physical and emotional level.
About the book:
Set in Reconstruction Alabama, Augusta “Gus” Branson’s is a young widow whose quest for freedom turns into a race for her life when her husband Eli dies of a swift and horrifying fever and a large package of money – her only inheritance and means of survival – goes missing. Gus begins to wake to the realities that surround her: the social stigma her marriage has stained her with, what her husband did to earn his fortune, the shifting and very dangerous political and social landscape that is being destroyed by violence between the Klan and the Freeman’s Bureau, and the deadly fever that is spreading like wildfire. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she trusts is hiding something from her.
About the author:
Taylor M. Polites is a novelist living in Providence, Rhode Island with his small Chihuahua, Clovis. Polites’ first novel, The Rebel Wife, is due out in February 2012 from Simon & Schuster. He graduated in June 2010 with his MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, New York City, St. Louis and the Deep South. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BA in History and French and spent a year studying in Caen, France. He has covered arts and news for a variety of local newspapers and magazines, including the Cape Codder, InNewsWeekly, Bird’s Eye View (the in-flight magazine of CapeAir), artscope Magazine and Provincetown Arts Magazine.