In 1940′s Baltimore, neighbors Tess and Vincent are engaged – and madly in love. The childhood sweethearts are counting down the days until their upcoming wedding, and their life is on track to be perfect. Vincent has just finished medical school and has decided to travel to Chicago to help with the polio epidemic before returning home to take a permanent position.
When Vincent’s temporary position in Chicago gets extended yet again, Tess’ best friend, Gina, convinces her to come along to Washington, DC for a weekend of fun. At their boarding house, they meet two charming men and engage in an evening of harmless flirting. Harmless, that is, until an inebriated Tess is helped to bed by the mysterious Henry Kraft. One thing leads to another, and Tess soon finds herself pregnant. Unsure how to tell the love of her life, Tess disappears to Hickory, North Carolina for a new life.
Let’s get one thing straight: Tess and Henry did not have sex. They did not “make love.” Henry raped her. Tess was absolutely out of her mind drunk, a state that, coincidentally, Henry is at least partially responsible for. Tess was in no state of mind to consent. She was also in no state of mind to say no. The absence of a “no” does not constitute a “yes.”
A brief list of things that do not disguise the fact that this was rape:
- Tess not wanting to use that word.
- Tess thinking it’s her fault.
- The fact that Tess got pregnant.
- Henry never wanting to touch Tess again.
- Tess and Henry getting married.
- My knowledge that nobody would have called this rape in the 1940s.
So, from the get-go, I had some problems with the premise of the book. Obviously, this wasn’t going to be a loving marriage. That much is clear not only from the way in which Tess finds herself pregnant but also from the vague warnings that Tess gets from Henry’s family the moment that she shows up.
From the beginning, it’s clear that Henry’s family absolutely despises Tess. This is understandable. She showed up out of nowhere, claiming that this filthy rich man fathered her baby. Henry’s just like, “Hey, let’s get married!” and the family has no idea what’s happening. They see Tess as an outsider. A gold digger. A tramp. I get it.
I also get, somewhat, at least, why Tess put up with it. She really has very little support in her daily life aside from Vincent and his family. Feeling like she couldn’t discuss her “indiscretion” with the family that she betrayed, she runs away. But couldn’t she have just taken money from Henry and left? When a guy you barely know proposes marriage, you don’t have to agree. And when his sister’s all like, “Um, you don’t know anything about Henry. He’s got so many secrets,” maybe you should re-evaluate your life choices.
I don’t fault Tess for getting pregnant. (As I said, in my mind at least, this was obviously rape.) I don’t fault her for freaking out and leaving town. But if she and Vincent were as close as she described and Vincent was as caring and loving and perfect as she described, could she not have told him what happened? Even if she was uncomfortable calling it rape, couldn’t she have said, “I had quite a lot to drink and next thing I knew I was having sex. I love you so much. I never meant to hurt you.”
I feel like I can’t get too much more into the plot without revealing some major plot twists, so I’m going to end my review here. I will say that the pacing of the book felt a little off. The first half dragged for me (it took me five days to get through it) while I flew through the second half in a couple hours. The second half of the book made up for the first half, but it’s a shame that it takes so long to get to the good part.
Final rating: ★★★☆☆
I received a free ARC of The Stolen Marriage from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for my honest opinion.