Review: The Rebel Wife by Taylor M Polites

Saturated in rich, golden prose Taylor Polites’s novel, The Rebel Wife, oozes engrossing detail and with such a commanding voice/tone from the first page….I found it difficult to put down. The novel contains whispers of literary delight from beloved American classics such as Gone with the Wind  and is told with a dark edge which echos William Faulkner.

This book was listed on Goodreads as a giveaway ARC, and this was one of the novels I was most hoping to win. The cover is striking and elegant with blazing sunset and a dark, decaying house….the cover alone beckoned me to read it.

I was over the moon when I won a copy and immediately began reading the second it arrived. I was sure the book would be good but I was note entirely sure I would love it but I was surprised…it was breathtaking.

I finished it much more quickly than anticipated…each word so powerful it was calling me home like the red earth of Tara in Gone with the Wind, I was captivated.

This Southern Gothic novel is surly on track to be a favorite among audiences with its post Reconstruction era Alabama charm. I loved how Polites describes the decaying, lost, disillusionment of the South….a far cry from the glorious antebellum days.

Gothic novels are often recognized by their feeling or tone of hopelessness and often gritty characters….Victorian novels such as Wuthering Heights are a perfect example of a classic gothic novel….Southern Gothic novels such as The Rebel Wife are part of a very unique sub genre in American literature…the Southern Gothic….gothic novels et exclusively in the South.

Southern Gothic’s are not as widely known or read as some of the more traditional British Gothic classics which makes this genre almost more fun to read. I love that it is still relatively unknown and unspoiled….it’s exotically different and yet comforting and familiar all at the same time. Southern Gothics are truly one of my most favorite genres to read.

When you read Southern Gothic novels you get the feeling that you are reading something familiar but yet vastly different from anything else you have read which was one reason that I liked this book so very much…..is drips Southern Gothic from the first sentence.

I am not a huge American lit fan (truth be told) but I do love Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind….though it is not truly a ‘gothic’ novel of course. I have read some other Southern Gothic novels such as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (which is also one of my fav books!) and of course the Southern Vampire Mystery Series (the Sookie Stackhouse books).

The gothic can be manifested in a couple of different ways….supernatuarl as we see in the Sookie Stackhouse books, or through a degenerative hopelessness in it’s characters much like we see in books such as this. I liked how the publisher describes the novel on the cover:

Using the Southern Gothic tradition to subvert literary archetypes like the white Southern Gentleman, the good Mammy, the conniving scalawag, and the defenseless Southern Belle, The Rebel Wife shatters the myths that still cling to the antebellum South and creates an unforgettable heroine for our time.

The book truly did just that….the Souther Gothic subverted the traditional archetypes of typical Southern American lit. In this case I felt the cover description was DEAD ON!

This spellbinding story was unique….the voice of the heroine, Augusta ‘Gus’ Branson, was haughty and powerful. A vulnerable southern belle….she is relying on the mercy of men. At the same time she was a completely flawed character but also completely relatable and while I started the book wondering if I would like her at all, by the end I was in love with her.

Now widowed, Gus is left virtually penniless. A well brought up lady from an old southern family…..Gus is married off to a wealthy Yankee when the war ends leaving her family destitute. Still carrying a torch for her one time beau, Buck, Gus resigns herself to her marriage until the day comes when she can be ‘free’ from her husband…..a day she knows will never come until his death.

With Eli’s death Gus hopes to be independent and comfortable in the remainder of her life….until her cousin and family patriarch, Judge, informs her that she has nothing and Eli has been embezzling money. Judge also implies that Eli has been buying votes and using his money to influence those in positions of power in the new South.

Eli’s most trusted friend, Simon who is also a free slave, tells Gus that before he died Eli was supposedly carrying a large package of money and a list of names whom he has been ‘financing’….a valuable list and dangerous if it should fall into the wrong hands. Not sure if she should believe Simon, Gus can’t help but have a nagging feeling about Judge and Buck….she decides to at least consider what Simon is saying. Gus begins desperately searching for the package hoping to find answers.

The descriptions that Polites offers of the small Alabama town is vivid. I can see the streets lined with old brick buildings and homes that in the antebellum would have been impecably manicured and shown off in traditional antebellum style….now the streets are lined with houses that have fallen into disrepair, are no longer cared for and idolized as they once were. The Southern spirit has been broken, they have all but given up how life was ‘before the war’. Polites has an uncanny way of describing the gothic feel that Reconstruction left throughout the South….a feeling which still resonates in modern Southern society.

As I read Gus’s character, I really fell into her….the voice and narrative were very unique as I said before, similar to Faulkner and other Souther Gothic novelists. I felt her struggle, insecurities, anger, frustration, sadness, and her distrust. Her failures and growing pains became the readers too.

The only thing I would say that distracted slightly from the novel was the transitions. At times I felt like the narration was a little choppy and a littler disjointed. It was horribly distracting but a little refining might help with the flow of the book.

I feel truly lucky to get to read this book before it comes out in Feb 2012….I think this is going to be one of the more anticipated novels of 2012 and I suspect it will be a popular among book clubs, bloggers, and readers. I know if I had not won an ARC I would be buying it the second it came out in print :).

Just as the blazing cover suggests, this novel radiates from within….a golden Southern Gothic novel sure to win the hearts and admiration of many readers.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Rebel Wife by Taylor M Polites

  • Paperback, 256 pages
  • Expected publication: February 7th 2012 by Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 (solid gold Southern Gothic novel).

Genre: Historic fiction, Southern Gothic

Memorable lines/quotes:

Better to know what to fear than to fear all the things that you don’t know (50).

There is a thin difference between a place that has been abandoned and a place that is lived in but where the people have simply given up. It is all around us (128).

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  1. The Lit Bitch’s Year in Literature Wrap Up 2011 « The Lit Bitch

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