Brimming with atmosphere and edgy suspense, The Rebel Wife presents a young widow trying to survive in the violent world of Reconstruction Alabama, where the old gentility masks a continuing war fueled by hatred, treachery, and still-powerful secrets.
Augusta Branson was born into antebellum Southern nobility during a time of wealth and prosperity, but now all that is gone, and she is left standing in the ashes of a broken civilization. When her scalawag husband dies suddenly of a mysterious blood plague, she must fend for herself and her young son. Slowly she begins to wake to the reality of her new life: her social standing is stained by her marriage; she is alone and unprotected in a community that is being destroyed by racial prejudice and violence; the fortune she thought she would inherit does not exist; and the deadly blood fever is spreading fast. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she knows is hiding something, and Augusta needs someone to trust. Somehow she must find the truth amid her own illusions about the past and the courage to cross the boundaries of hate, so strong, dangerous, and very close to home. Using the Southern Gothic tradition to explode literary archetypes like the chivalrous Southern gentleman, the good mammy, and the defenseless Southern belle, The Rebel Wife shatters the myths that still cling to the antebellum South and creates an unforgettable heroine for our time.
Publication date: February 7th 2012 by Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
The Elliott Review:
Lately it seems like I've been reading mainly young adult, so switching to an adult level historical novel was a definite change of pace that was extremely refreshing. This book reads like a work of art, a very sensory experience filled with deep yet understated emotion. The historical details and authentic supporting characters make this a work to remember.
Gus, the female protagonist, is extremely well-developed, and her confused emotions ring true in the midst of her unraveling situation. Those she is supposed to be able to trust to help her seem to be the least trustworthy. The climate is forbidding and dangerous for a widow of a man who is the political opposite of the rebels still working toward racial inequality in the post-war South.
I really enjoyed the way Gus interacts with Simon, her husband's trusted black servant. Even though nothing happens exactly, there is still that tension, that unstated sense of something that just blew my mind with how well it was written. This is a society where such a thing would be completely unheard of, yet it is a natural, organic thing.
The ending of the book felt momentous to me, one of those bittersweet endings that have enough closure and enough left up to the reader's own interpretation of what will happen.
Like I said before, this was a nice departure into something with some weighty literary merit.
Source: Thanks to Nicole of Tribute Books for providing a copy of this title for a fair review.