In his debut novel, Taylor Polites spins a page-turning story of desperation and transformation, set during the unstable Reconstruction Era. Polites' attraction to both historical research and eerie Gothic motifs -terror, darkness, miasma, attraction, and deception- led him to craft something original, a subtle mystery that took me by surprise. I would recommend reading it on a hot summer night, if you can wait that long.
At its core, the plot is propelled by fraught obsession, as the widowed heroine of The Rebel Wife, Augusta, relentlessly struggles to hold-tight to what is hers. Augusta's anxiety is more than warranted, in a time and place when single women had limited control of their income, kin, and even their households. Fans of Jean Rhys, Daphne du Maurier (My Cousin Rachel) and Maggie O'Farrell (My Lover's Lover, After You'd Gone) will appreciate Augusta's unrelenting mind, along with the sticky pace at which Polites' brings her closer to her elusive objective, which may or may not exist. That's all I'll say about the plot; I despise spoilers!
I loved this book, though I don't often read historical fiction. Polites ends his novel with an impressive bibliography -- full of history monographs you that you read in grad school. Despite his academic research, the novel is not an event-driven story of war and disease. This book is character driven. Any research conducted by Polites influenced details of setting, behavior, dialogue, and dress. Thank you, Taylor Polites, for avoiding battle scenes, and all of their tedious details.
I look forward to reading future works by this promising new novelist!