The Rebel Wife
“I know that Eli is dying.” The opening line of this debut novel by Taylor M. Polites is intriguing, and the initial thought is for the speaker who will suffer the loss, but his widow, Augusta “Gus” Branson, could not be more emotionally detached. Eli has been the provider of her wealth and comfort for the last ten years, but even her child is the result of an accident. The year is 1876, and her small Alabama town is in turmoil as Republicans work to give black citizens the freedom they were promised at emancipation and others plan to revive the “old South” one town at a time.
Gus’s cousin, Judge, informs her that Eli appointed him trustee of the estate even though they agreed on nothing except Gus’s welfare. He tells her she is penniless but declines to reveal more. Simon, a former slave, knows all the secrets, and she must learn to trust him. He has been the envoy in Eli’s nefarious business transactions and knows that Eli brought home a large sum of money on the night he died. Gus and Simon must work together to find it; Gus promises Simon half the found money as their quest takes them to places unwelcome to widows and dangerous to former slaves. Simon proves to be the only clear head in the bunch and the key to her future.
The author hopes to deconstruct the myths of the Old South, but I enjoyed the old myths in my favorite novels more. I felt as if Gus never really developed into anything interesting, Simon was really good, and the bad guys were really bad. I think the novel could have used a little more balance.