- Written By: Diane Chamberlain
- Published By: St. Martin’s Press, October 3, 2017
- Length: 371 pages
- Source: Received an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
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?
While I first saw this book as a story of young love stolen away, I learned so much more from Diane Chamberlain. Her books always amaze me in the sweeping tales of honest human emotions. The Stolen Marriage also taught me much more about the polio epidemical and how the people in one small town pulled together.
Tess is so likable, she is a devoted daughter, friend, girlfriend and nursing student, She’s a hard worker, and she has the patience of a saint. Her fiancé, Vincent has left Baltimore to help in the polio outbreak in Chicago. HIs time away extended several times, but her love for him is strong. On a whim Tess goes to Washington DC for a short trip and what happens will change her life. In a series of tragedies she comes to marry Henry, move to North Carolina and finds herself shunned. No ones likes her, everyone thought Henry was to marry a local girl and the small town feels so odd to her. She has to learn her place, Henry’s family is wealthy and owns a furniture manufacturing company. He is a kind but unaffectionate man. She is often left alone and wondering what she’s done wrong.
When their small town of Hickory is targeted for an emergency polio hospital the entire town pulls together to build, staff and run the facility. Tess is determined to use her nursing skills even though Henry and his mother are aghast that she would do such a thing. Her mother in law isafraid of the disease and ignorant of the important role that nurses played in the treatment of it’s mostly young victims.
This story is about family, love, race, and the polio epidemics. It’s beautifully crafted together and my heart was breaking for Tess to just find happiness. At one point I thought I’d figured out what Henry’s absences and secrets were about only to be completely surprised.
If you’ve not read a book by Diane Chamberlain, this is a wonderful place to start. Thank you again Katie Bassel and St. Martin’s Press for the copy of this book.