By Taylor M. Polites. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages. $25
Reviewed by Jill Bowen
JILL BOWEN is a retired veterinarian and an avid reader.
Set in the South some 10 years after the end of the Civil War, Taylor Polites’ first novel is the story of Augusta, a Southern woman who unexpectedly finds herself a widow. She discovers that she has very little say in how her estate is administered. The local judge appoints himself as executor of the estate, claiming that Augusta has been left virtually penniless.
Meanwhile the judge and his unattractive son are busy milking Augusta’s funds under the guise of helping her. Augusta earns the sobriquet of “rebel wife” as she fights to get back what is rightfully hers.
Although she was initially led to believe that her husband, Eli, a Unionist, was in deep financial trouble when he died, she learns from Eli’s faithful servant that things are not as bad as the judge would have her believe. Augusta is not helped by being addicted to laudanum, which is perhaps why it takes her so long to figure things out.
Although well written, I did not feel too much empathy toward the characters. I found Augusta particularly irritating and the other characters somewhat one-dimensional. All that apart, this is still a novel well worth reading. It is a well-researched book, and it certainly comes to an exciting and unexpected climax.
My criticism was that Polites seems to assume that his readers are conversant with this period of American history. I had to do some research to make sense of it all.