Pub. Date: October 3, 2017
Source: Hardcover via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)
Summary: 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?
Genre: Historical Fiction
It’s no secret I live for the next Diane Chamberlain novel. Though I discovered her work pretty late in the game (she debuted in 1989 but my intro was her 2014 release, The Silent Sister!) I instantly fell hard for her writing and with 2015’s Pretending to Dance, knew Diane was someone special…and someone who clearly had a mission in life to crush my heart. So when her latest appeared at my door, you better believe I was ALL over it.
Everyone knew Tess and Vincent were destined to be together. When they were kids they spent almost every waking moment together and as they became older that friendship deepened into something more. Now engaged with a wedding rapidly approaching, Tess couldn’t be more excited about her future. Until the day she suddenly breaks off the engagement, moving hundreds of miles away to marry a man who’s practically a stranger.
Cutting off all ties to her life back home, Tess tries to love her husband and fit in with his elite Southern community as each day Henry becomes more and more mysterious. He spends long nights at his family’s furniture factory, he has a secret stash of money in a hidden compartment in his dresser, even his sister is in on it and never hesitates to rub Tess’s cluelessness in her face.
When the polio epidemic reaches Hickory, Tess feels compelled to act – despite Henry’s insistence that there has never been (and will never be) a Kraft woman with a job. All Tess needs to focus on is decorating the new house Henry is having built. But Tess can’t sit by, not when she has her nursing license, and soon begins feeling like the old Tess, the Tess she was back home in Baltimore. As the illness spreads, however, more and more doctors are brought in from around the country – including a doctor Tess never imagined she’d see again.
Right from the start I was captivated by The Stolen Marriage. It’s set in the mid-40s – hello, historical fiction! – and I was enchanted by Tess’s small but so tightly-knit Italian community. She and Vincent were so clearly made for each other and I’m a total sucker for a childhood romance. Diane Chamberlain is an expert at crafting characters and before I was even halfway into the book I felt as though I’d known Tess, her family, Henry, the people of Hickory, for years! She’s also very good at creating sympathetic characters – Tess breaks off her engagement to Vincent because she is raped by Henry and discovers she’s pregnant. Tess was convinced she was to blame, that what happened that night was consensual when, as a reader, I knew exactly what went on and absolutely hated Henry for it. Imagine my shock when, by the end of the novel, I saw him in a completely different light.
There are numerous storylines at work within this book’s pages: Tess’s lost love and her new life, whatever Henry is up to, a jilted lover who thought she was going to become Mrs. Henry Kraft, a man who can communicate with spirits, but the one that stood out the most was the polio epidemic. Or, more specifically, Hickory’s response. If you know me you know one of my all-time favorite sub-genres is what I’ve dubbed biographical fiction. Novels that feature real people and places from history. Here (and I wasn’t aware of this until Diane’s author’s note) it was the hospital that sprung up practically overnight. Known as the Miracle of Hickory, a functioning, fully staffed hospital was erected in just 54 hours. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, over 500 patients were treated there!
I once compared Diane’s books to Lifetime movies – and not in a bad way! Her books are filled to the brim with characters and plots and there’s never a dull moment (one of the characters in The Stolen Marriage fakes their own death)!
Diane Chamberlain has hit another homerun with The Stolen Marriage. While it didn’t tug at my heart nearly as much as Pretending to Dance, I was still glued to the page. She has the amazing ability to truly write something for everyone: there’s romance (including forbidden romance), intrigue, history, drama, the list goes on. I’ll admit I was angry with how the rape (yes it was indeed rape, Tess) was handled, but I understand the reasoning behind it. Despite that, however, The Stolen Marriage is a great read and I’m so excited to see what Diane does next!