Desert Isle Keeper
The Stolen Marriage
I’ve been a huge fan of Diane Chamberlain’s work since the early 2000s. Everything she writes is filled with well-drawn characters who are in the midst of varied and complex situations. When I learned she was writing a novel set during the Second World War, I was over the moon, as that’s one of my favorite historical periods to read about. The Stolen Marriage was everything I hoped it would be, and so much more besides.
Twenty-three-year-old Tess Demello is about to start the life of her dreams. She’ll soon be married to Vincent, the boy next door who turned out to be the love of her life. He’s a doctor, and Tess, with her nursing degree, plans to work beside him when he goes into private practice in Baltimore. Eventually, they’ll start a family, and Tess can’t imagine wanting anything more out of life.
Unfortunately, Vincent’s attitude toward Tess begins to change; he begins working at a polio clinic in Chicago, and he’s away for months at a time. Tess begins to doubt his love for her, especially since Vincent continually postpones the date of his return home. So, when her best friend suggests Tess accompany her on a night out in Washington D.C., Tess agrees, telling herself she deserves to have a little fun. After all, Vincent isn’t likely to be pining for her. But things in D.C. don’t go the way Tess expected they would, and the night ends with an intoxicated Tess in bed with Henry Kraft, a handsome and mysterious stranger.
Tess returns home, determined to put her indiscretion behind her. She’ll never see Henry again, and she and Vincent will get married and hopefully live happily ever after. At least, they will, if Vincent ever comes home. But, when she realizes she’s pregnant with Henry’s child, Tess is faced with the most difficult decision of her life. Can she trick Vincent into thinking the child is his, or will she tell him the truth, thus ending their engagement?
After much soul-searching and a trip to the small town of Hickory, North Carolina, where Henry lives and works, Tess decides to end her engagement to Vincent and marry Henry instead. It’s not the most well-thought-out plan, but Henry seems determined to do the right thing by Tess and their unborn child. He’s quite wealthy, and he promises to give Tess every advantage. True, they don’t love each other, but Tess is sure love will blossom in time.
Tess and Henry are married quickly, and she is soon ensconced in his family home. She’s not wild about having to live with Henry’s mother and younger sister, but he assures her it’s only for a short time, just until he can have a house built for them. Tess hopes to become friends with Henry’s relatives, but it soon becomes apparent to both Tess and the reader that this is not a likely outcome. The Kraft women seem to resent her presence, and both go out of their way to be extremely unpleasant. Tess is baffled by their open hostility, but before long she realizes she has more important things to worry about than the rudeness of her in-laws.
Although Henry was quick to suggest he and Tess get married, he doesn’t seem at all inclined to treat Tess as his wife. They sleep in separate beds and never make love; he stays out late most nights, and is extremely evasive when Tess questions his whereabouts. Obviously, there’s more to Henry than first meets the eye, and Tess will have her work cut out for her if she ever hopes to learn the truth.
This story is much more than the summary I’ve given you, but nothing I could write would do Ms. Chamberlain’s latest novel justice. It’s part love story with a hint of the paranormal thrown in and part mystery. But, most of all, it’s the story of one woman’s struggle to find herself and her purpose in a changing world.
Tess is a delightful heroine. She makes her share of mistakes, but she learns from them and goes on to become a better person. I fully expected her to crumble under the dislike of Henry’s friends and family, but she is possessed of remarkable courage and stands strong in her convictions. Henry doesn’t want her to work, but when a polio epidemic sweeps through the town, she defies his wishes and goes to work at the newly-constructed hospital because she knows in her heart it’s the right thing to do.
The supporting characters are expertly drawn. I definitely didn’t like them all, but I was able to understand and even sympathize with many of the reasons for their undesirable behavior, and, in my book, that’s a real plus. I don’t like cookie-cutter characters. I want to know and understand the people I’m reading about, even those I dislike.
The Stolen Marriage is the kind of story that will grab you and refuse to let you go until you turn the last page – I would have read it in one sitting if it had been possible. Ms. Chamberlain transported me out of my world and into Tess’s, and I enjoyed every minute I spent there. Hickory isn’t the nicest place I’ve ever read about, though. It brims with racial tension and deeply buried secrets, but it feels incredibly authentic.
This novel is sure to appeal to those who are established fans of Ms. Chamberlain’s books, as well as those who have never read her before. It’s something I’ll be recommending to all my book-loving friends. It really is that good.