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The Rebel Wife by Taylor M Polites

The Rebel Wife

by Taylor M Polites

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Don't read it.

Don't do it.

You will never get those hours back.

I love historical fiction, especially set in the Civil War era. And when I saw this book compared to Gone With the Wind, I was sold. Except this book is nothing like GWtW, save for a few minor similarities like time frame. I loathed pretty much every character in this book; they were all so cardboard. I especially hated the narrator, which never bodes well. It took a heroic effort to finish this book, and I rather wish I hadn't! ( )
  schatzi | May 1, 2016 |
It’s no surprise that this is a work of southern historical fiction, set during the Reconstruction, about ten years after the end of the Civil War. What was surprising was that the entire book was a first person POV from the eyes of Augusta Branson, the titular Rebel Wife.

That angle worked well because Gus, as she’s called, went through the novel ‘waking up’ to the actual circumstances of her life and surrounding community. She was a product of her time and, having some sense of disenfranchisement due to her gender and her dead-husband’s politics (Republican); and an above-average familiarity with racial tolerance (also due to her husband) she is able to increasingly sympathize and ally with former slaves as they struggle against the resurging southern land owners. Taylor’s first-person POV is very strong; he has a real ability to project the inner voice of his character. The book never reads like it has any particular agenda, even though issues of race and class morality prove to be the lifeblood of the entire society under consideration.

Gus ‘wakes up’ in both a literal and figurative sense – giving up her reliance on laudanum and on the illusions of her life woven by the men around her. All the characters are complicated – not least of all her husband whose backstory is revealed as the novel unfolds. She didn’t truly know him until after his death. A modern feminist might complain at Gus’ passivity – she spends most of the novel waiting and reacting to circumstances rather than acting – but I think this fits her character (although I was almost frustrated with her!) and she does start taking charge at the end. I think this restraint is actually a strong point of Polites’ writing: he lets the story unfold in a very leisurely, natural way. If you have trouble getting into the story, stick it out. There are plot twists – very interesting plot twists coming late in the book and filling back into the earlier events very cleverly. The book came most alive at the end (when Gus was most aware of things.) ( )
  mak3 | Jun 29, 2015 |
The Rebel Wife was ok. I enjoyed the setting, which Polites described so well, and I loved the post Civil War era in which the story took place, but I just didn't like reading the story in present tense/first person. Blah! Now, that's not to say that Taylor Polites did not write a likeable, readable book. I did like the story but I just found it to be drawn out at times and found myself becoming impatient with Augustus(Gus), the main character. She seemed to ramble on and on and some things were repetitive. The title is kind of misleading, too. Gus may have done a few things that a woman would not have done but I would hardly consider her a "REBEL WIFE". Maybe a woman doing what she HAD TO DO is a little more like it.

Post Civil War Era. Reconstruction Era. Augustus Branson is a Southern beauty, married to a wealthy Yankee. The slaves are now free but hatred and racial tensions are at a boiling point. Gus, as Augustus is nicknamed, finds herself widowed after her husband dies from a mysterious death. Gus shows no emotion at his passing because she believes that she has been freed from a marriage she never wanted and was pushed into. A son was born of this ten year union. Henry. Unfortunately, Gus is visited by her elderly cousin, who is also the executor of her late husband's will, and is told that after the business and personal debts are paid, that Gus and Henry will be left with very little. How can that be? There was once so much money. Where is the money from the mill that is still operating?

Amid a quickly spreading and deadly illness that is claiming lives, Gus must learn how to operate her household with no income, deal with a household of freed workers who expect to be paid, decide if she and her family should flee to safety, and most importantly, learn who is to be trusted and which of those are to be feared. ( )
  MaryEvelynLS | Jun 1, 2014 |
This book occupied the morning of a snow day; at 282 pages, a quick read. The story was not terribly deep, either. So much of the text was spent describing how oppressive the heat was, or how dark the night was, I found myself starting to skim paragraphs as soon as the topic entered a sentence. (How many different was can you describe the heat and humidity, and how many times do I need to be told how everyone was damp with perspiration? I get it; tell me something else, please!) I agree with some of the other reviewers who felt Augusta (Gus) had an unaccountable change of feeling toward her servants, seemingly all due to a single troubling revelation concerning the inception of her marriage and the emotion of one final flashback — although there were plenty of other revelations and flashbacks that preceded this particular one, none of which seemed to have altered any of her sensibilities. It just didn't ring true to me.

The story is told entirely form Augusta's point of view, but this choice, along with the author's style, means many of the other characters came off as one-dimensional stereotypes. Then there were others (such as Emily) who blazed in with no attempt to conceal or disguise their hatred and ill-will, but neither was there any attempt on the part of Polites to ground their enmity with any justification. It was mentioned once or twice that Gus was socially ostracized from the "southern nobility" by her marriage (Southern-belle-weds-Southern-man-turned-scalawag), and that her husband was apparently well-off financially where as the old, established families struggled, but none of that seemed to explain the vitriolic outbursts of Emily and Jennie. And the implied romantic inclinations at the end seemed completely unfounded in light of Augusta's attitudes throughout the first 200 pages of the book. The last 60-some pages cover the space of approximately 36 hours, but in this span we are to believe the main character completely changes her attitudes toward almost every other character (including her deceased husband) and develops the backbone and gumption she seems to have lacked up to this point? All her threats and obstacles have gone away? A little too neat and tidy, and an overall unsatisfying story. ( )
  tarheel96 | Apr 11, 2014 |
A rather interesting novel, The Rebel Wife, takes into account the beginning of Civil Rights as they occurred or didn't occur after the Civil War. Obviously, Lincoln freeing the slaves did not guarantee that they were free. Through the character of Augusta (Gus) we learn that women were not free either. They were governed by husbands, brothers and others. This novel tells a story that is typical of events that happened throughout the south after the Civil War.

I found the story interesting in historic value. As a novel the story was pretty average but it served as a vehicle to present the true feeling of antebellum.

Definitely a must read for historical fiction fans in particular Civil War and post war material. ( )
  Quiltinfun06 | Jul 22, 2012 |
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Brimming with atmosphere and edgy suspense, The Rebel Wife presents a young widow trying to survive in the violent world of Reconstruction Alabama, where the old gentility masks a continuing war fueled by hatred, treachery, and still-powerful secrets.

Augusta Branson was born into antebellum Southern nobility during a time of wealth and prosperity, but now all that is gone, and she is left standing in the ashes of a broken civilization. When her scalawag husband dies suddenly of a mysterious blood plague, she must fend for herself and her young son. Slowly she begins to wake to the reality of her new life: her social standing is stained by her marriage; she is alone and unprotected in a community that is being destroyed by racial prejudice and violence; the fortune she thought she would inherit does not exist; and the deadly blood fever is spreading fast. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she knows is hiding something, and Augusta needs someone to trust. Somehow she must find the truth amid her own illusions about the past and the courage to cross the boundaries of hate, so strong, dangerous, and very close to home. Using the Southern Gothic tradition to explode literary archetypes like the chivalrous Southern gentleman, the good mammy, 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.
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Forced into marriage with a wealthy man after her Southern family is rendered destitute by the Civil War, Augusta becomes a widow a decade later and finds her circumstances hinging on a missing package in a community torn by racial prejudice, violence, and disease.… (more)

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