When I was growing up, my oldest sister was obsessed with 'Gone With the Wind'. She had a big hardcover edition of the book, with pictures from the movie. As I was obsessed with movies anyway, GWTW took hold in my mind and I was determined to see what all the fuss was about. I read the novel when I was twelve years old; I thought it overly romantic, yet I fell in love with Rhett Butler. Shortly thereafter, my paternal grandmother accompanied me to a screening of the film and I was in awe. It was one of the most perfectly cast films ever made. But when I grew older, I read many non-fiction books about the South during and after the Civil War, and discovered it wasn't all 'magnolias and mint juleps'.
So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I read 'The Rebel Wife', written by Taylor Polites. Although it's his first novel, I was very impressed. Gone are the Southern stereotypes. '...Wife' didn't open my eyes to the life of Southerners after the war, but it did tell a story from a different perspective.
Augusta Branson was born into a very prominent Southern family, which was torn asunder and left destitute by the Civil War. Forced to marry a man whom she doesn't love, she is with him for ten years when he dies of a horrible blood disease, leaving her and their young son penniless. The fortune she assumed he would leave to her doesn't exist, her standing in society is stained because of her marriage, and she is ready to lose the closest friends she has: Her household servants. The novel is filled with scenes of great power, most notably racial prejudice and violence. How Augusta discovers the secret which was withheld from her, and how she triumphs over that situation, is extremely powerful and very surprising. She is an unforgettable heroine.
Scarlett O'Hara has just been supplanted.
(This novel is due to be released in February 2012)