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?
Chamberlain is one of those authors who makes you feel like she really put in the effort on research in order to provide an in-depth experience. In this book she takes you back to the 1940s as the modern world melts away to reveal a time without cell phones or internet; yes that really existed once.
I’ve read quite a few of her books and have always enjoyed her finely detailed style which she kept going on this easy paced novel. I recommend you give yourself a good chunk of undisturbed time so you can truly sink into the world she has re-created.
Tess and Vincent are wonderful characters richly developed and their love story is the kind every little girl hopes to find. If only it had ended there. The next bit of the story was incredibly difficult to process as a woman simply because of how things were handled back then, the choices or lack thereof available to women from medical to legal to employment and everything in between. I was reminded all over again how grateful I am to live in the 21st century.
She provides a reminder how one night, one choice can completely change the course of your life and you should probably choose better friends, lol.
At first I truly did not like Henry, something about him came off cold and borderline abusive the way he was trying to order Tess around but later when you found out the true measure of his character? Chamberlain sure knows how to write complex characters.
Even her minor characters feel like a rich part of the story which later on makes even more sense when you understand where she’s been slowly taking you through this snapshot of history.
I adore her work and how she takes complicated social issues and makes them feel real.
Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for allowing me to review this!
Find at Amazon:
*pic and synopsis from Goodreads