One mistake, one fateful night, and Tess DeMello’s life is changed forever.
It is 1944. Pregnant, alone, and riddled with guilt, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly gives up her budding career as a nurse and ends her engagement to the love of her life, unable to live a lie. Instead, she turns to the baby’s father for help and agrees to marry him, moving to the small, rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection. Tess quickly realises she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.
The people of Hickory love and respect Henry but see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. When one of the town’s golden girls dies in a terrible accident, everyone holds Tess responsible. But Henry keeps his secrets even closer now, though it seems that everyone knows something about him that Tess does not.
When a sudden polio epidemic strikes Hickory, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess knows she is needed and defies Henry’s wishes to begin working at there. Through this work, she begins to find purpose and meaning. 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 the truth behind her husband’s mysterious behaviour and find the love—and the life—she was meant to have?
This book is told only from Tess’ perspective, which is quite unusual as I feel like Diane is the queen of writing multiple perspectives well. I think the best thing about reading multiple perspectives is that if I don’t connect with one character I will usually connect with another – that became one of my problems in this book. Because I didn’t connect with Tess, whose voice was the only one we heard, the well over 500-page book became a bit tedious. I think Diane wrote a believable character and she is great at writing strong female characters, often ahead of their time, but I couldn’t relate to the issues Tess was facing such as her bad marriage or having to fight to be able to work – as a 21st century young woman these are not issues I’m familiar with except from a historical aspect. Tess also didn’t change much throughout the novel – the things she wanted at the start were the same at the end and I found her a bit selfish.
Similarly to the last historical novel I read by Diane Chamberlain I really feel I learned a lot from this novel – this time about polio. I didn’t have much understanding of this disease and that was definitely a highlight of the book. I love that Diane’s books give me more insight into North Carolina, and in particular for her historical fiction – the way she is able to weave storylines from different times together is one of the aspects of her writing I love most.
The problem I had with this book was that nothing much happened. Although Diane’s books are never really “action-packed” there is always a lot going on in the characters’ lives that drive the story and make you care. I was halfway through The Stolen Marriage before I realised nothing had really happened and we still hadn’t had all the plot points from the blurb. We hadn’t really even had mention of polio which I thought would be the book’s main theme. Because I didn’t really root for the characters either, I found myself finishing this book because I want to read all the author’s books rather than because I was enjoying the reading experience.
I gave this book 3/5. I normally really enjoy Diane Chamberlain’s books but I couldn’t connect with these characters.