Review: The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

Title: The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical (40s), Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Steeped in history and filled with heart-wrenching twists, The Stolen Marriage is an emotionally captivating novel of secrets, betrayals, prejudice, and forgiveness. It showcases Diane Chamberlain at the top of her talent.

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 realizes 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 behavior and find the love—and the life—she was meant to have?

Review:

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain is a well-researched, historically accurate novel set during the mid 1940s in North Carolina.

Twenty-three year old Tess DeMello is happily engaged to next door neighbor Dr. Vincent Russo. Looking forward to her upcoming wedding and completing her nursing studies, she is disappointed yet understanding when Vincent goes to Chicago to help out during a serious polio outbreak. When his return date continues to get pushed back, she and her best friend take a trip to Washington, DC that forever alters Tess’s life and eventually leads to a loveless marriage to furniture maker Henry Kraft.

Tess is a strong, confident young woman who has a close relationship with her mother and Vincent’s family. Her one misstep has far reaching implications and she loses everything dear to her the aftermath. Not expecting Henry to offer marriage, she nonetheless accepts his proposal and relocates to his hometown of Hickory.  Needless to say, neither her mother-in-law Ruth nor her sister-in-law Lucy welcomes her into the family and Tess grows incredibly lonely in her new circumstances. She is also puzzled by Henry’s lack of interest in their marriage and although she would like to confront him, Tess is fearful of upsetting their fragile bond. Tess remains hopeful things will improve over the coming months and despite her reluctance to go against her husband’s wishes, she nonetheless holds firm when it comes to attaining her RN license.

Tess is definitely a fish out of water in her new home. She is expected to conform to Ruth’s wishes and she gradually loses her sense of self under the weight of these expectations. Dealt a crushing blow in the aftermath of tragic losses, Tess unexpectedly finds the opportunity to fulfill her prior dreams when the town comes together and builds a hospital for polio patients.  When her past crashes headlong into the present, Tess realizes the enormity of everything she has lost, but will she find a way to escape her increasingly unhappy life?

The Stolen Marriage is an enthralling historical novel with a rich cast of vibrantly developed and life-like characters. Tess is an extremely sympathetic and appealing protagonist who is a victim of not only her impetuous decisions but the strictures of time period. The small town of Hickory is realistically depicted but it takes the townspeople’s generosity in the face of adversity for Tess to realize she has misjudged most of its residents.  Diane Chamberlain’s meticulous research of Hickory’s past highlights a remarkable but little known piece of important history. An incredibly captivating and thought-provoking novel that provides an insightful glimpse of turbulent race relations, haunting polio epidemics and limited choices women endured during the mid 1940s in America.

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Filed under Diane Chamberlain, Fiction, Historical, Historical (40s), Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, The Stolen Marriage

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