I had a hard time putting down this post-Civil War novel by Taylor Polites. I was even reading during breakfast and lunch, which is quite an unusual feat for this mom who usually saves reading for bedtime. The novel was that engrossing.
Augusta Branson is a new widow, thrown into a world of chaos and confusion just when she thought life might be returning to some semblance of normalcy after the Civil War. Born into a wealthy, well-respected Southern family, Augusta lost seemingly everything during the war: her father, brother, and her lifestyle. She is forced by her mother to marry a Eli, a man hated by her society for his political standings.
When Eli dies of a strange sickness, Augusta quickly realizes that she knows absolutely nothing about anything—that, as a rich southern woman, she has been kept in the dark her entire life. The Judge, who has been a father figure of sorts to her, informs her that she has no money—that her husband was scoundrel. But her husband's trusted servant, Simon, has a different story. Can she trust a former slave, whom she has believed to be vastly inferior, over her kin and mentor, the Judge?
Augusta begins uncovering all kinds of truths she doesn't want to believe. She'd like to just exist in the oblivion that the doctor-prescribed laudanum brings—but can she really trust the doctor to know what's best for her? Are her servants hiding something? And most of all, how will she and her young son survive?
Polites is an excellent writer, and this story of life in a violent time of upheaval after the war is mesmerizing. Highly recommended.