Women’s issues, racial issues, and an epidemic!
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Diane Chamberlain is an author with more than two dozen books in print, so we know she can easily tell a story. In The Stolen Marriage, she treats us to historical fiction teaching about the people of Hickory, North Carolina, who in 1944 built, outfitted, and staffed a polio hospital in fifty-four hours! According the author’s notes, this hospital ultimately consisted of thirteen wards, and it evaluated 663 patients over its nine months in existence. The entire nine-month period is included in the novel.
As the book jacket reports, this is the story of twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello, who after one accident, one fateful night, finds herself pregnant. As a good Catholic girl, she is unwilling to abort the child. But it’s 1944, so what’s a girl to do? Ultimately, she leaves her home in Baltimore’s Little Italy and goes to the father of her child in Hickory. In doing this, she leaves behind her widowed mother, her budding career as a nurse, and her engagement to the love of her life, Vincent, a soon-to-be doctor.
The man in North Carolina, Henry, is a wealthy furniture manufacturer who willingly accepts responsibility and marries her. But he “is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection.”
This book’s copyright date is 2017, so it precedes the pandemic, but today’s readers will have a deeper understanding than earlier readers of what the Polio epidemic must have been like. Beyond this, there is a lot to be understood about the South in the 1940’s. Specifically, we have racial issues to explore, acceptable roles for married women, and of course, what happens to women who become pregnant out of wedlock.
The author has a few tricks up her sleeve that make this novel more than it may appear on the surface and makes it very special by book’s end. My only complaint is that the last chapter before the epilogue is five pages long and it needs to be a novel unto itself. There is so much history to be explored in those pages! Where do I learn more? Fingers crossed that this prolific author turns the “nine difficult days” of that chapter into her next novel.