The Angry Wife by Pearl S. Buck (originally published under the name John Sedges, presumably because it differed sharply from her earlier work) is not exactly hot off the presses, having first appeared in 1947. But I couldn't resist the 25-cent price at the library used book store, not for an author with that kind of reputation.
And it was 25 cents well spent. The book actually centers on the not-so-angry husband, Pierce Delaney, a young man returning from the Civil War where he fought on the side of the Union. He has accepted the defeat and the resulting change in society, but his wife is determined to live as if nothing has changed. Meanwhile, his brother, who fought on the side of the North and suffered greatly as a prisoner of war, returns home also, and falls in love with the former slave who nurses him back to health. Pierce is caught between them. We follow them and their children through several decades, till Pierce finds himself at the threshold of old age, in a world vastly different from that of his youth.
Three reasons you might like this book
1. The characterization is superb. This is a finely nuanced portrait of a man, sympathetic yet imperfect, struggling to deal with the changes in his world and the tensions in his family and somehow come to a place of peace. He does so, but not without paying a price and one you might not agree with. He muddles through imperfectly, but it's hard not to like him.
2. Buck also handles the shift from hopeful, vigorous youth to the more conservative, almost fearful attitudes of middle age with a master's hand. You can almost feel the voice getting heavier.
3. The setting is also superb. You get a wonderful feel of what the society of the time was, and what it meant in personal terms. This is a book designed to deepen your understanding.
Three reasons you might not like this book
1. A relatively quiet plot. Although there are a few scenes of dramatic violence during a period of intense labour unrest, most conflicts work themselves out without everything falling apart. An action thriller, this ain't.
2. No sex scenes either, although sexuality is dealt with in a very straightforward manner. The angry wife is beautiful and she knows it and isn't above playing politics with it.
3. The storytelling style is old-fashioned and a wee bit stuffy. It took me a little longer to get drawn in because of it.
Three sentences from page 33
"Of course I know how you feel, John," he said amiably. "And I'm not going to argue with you. I've had enough of fighting."Which sums up Pierce Delaney pretty well.
All in all, an enjoyable, interesting read.
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