Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls — 496 pgs

The Ninth Wife: A NovelBess Gray is a thirty-something folklorist living in Washington, D.C. Though she has a great career and the love and support of good friends and family, what Bess really hungers for is a serious relationship that will one day lead to marriage and a family. Through the urging of a friend, she decides to throw a singles mixer in her large apartment one evening, inviting a group of random strangers over to find a potential mate. It’s on this evening that she meets Rory, a handsome Irish expatriate who plays the fiddle and is disarmingly funny. Before Bess really realizes what’s happening, Rory is a main fixture in her life and the two are inching their way towards the kind of commitment Bess craves. But Rory has a secret, because although he seems to be the perfect man, he has actually been married eight times previously. When he finally comes clean to Bess about this, their relationship goes from harmonious to troubled in the blink of an eye.

Now Bess is on a quest to meet and interview all of Rory’s ex-wives to find out just what kind of man marries and divorces eight women, and ultimately discover if Rory is the right man for her. Taking advantage of a trip to relocate her beloved grandparents to their new home, Bess takes off across the country to discover all that she can about Rory. Along the way she must confront not only the difficult and frightening situation between her grandparents but must also help as the friend she is traveling confronts his own demons from the past. In this incredibly involving and heartfelt tale, Amy Stolls gives us the unlikely romance between a man who compulsively says “I do” and the woman who has lately come to love him.

From the very first, I was drawn into this story that alternated between chapters that chronicle Rory’s eight marriages and the opposite story of Bess’ everyday struggle through singledom and her eventual love affair with Rory. The dual narrative had the effect of letting me in on certain aspects of the tale while keeping a good portion hidden, and it really ratcheted up the intrigue as I was constantly wondering when and where the two stories would finally intersect. The book was also filled with crisp and witty dialog that kept my mind entertained my eyebrows raised.

Rory was a very interesting character, and I would have to say, a perfect match for Bess. He was a sensitive and caring man who longed to have a committed and stable relationship but for whom things had never quite worked out. Stolls does an amazing job of summarizing Rory’s past relationships, making each of the eight plausible and credible and not just the result of his being addicted to women, or marriage for that matter. A lot of Rory’s experiences in marriage and subsequent divorces were not solely his fault, and it was easy to see that some of the women he had married had other priorities that weighed more heavily on them. Of course, there were a few times that Rory completely dropped the ball and had in fact ended things for peculiar reasons. These failed relationships shouldn’t have been marriages, but Rory’s romantic nature kept leading him to walk these women down the isle instead of just dating them.

When Bess discovers Rory’s secret she is understandably overwhelmed and begins to pull away from him incrementally. It’s not so hard to understand that she would do this, as I think it was a realistic reaction on her part. How can she be with a man who thinks so lightly of an institution that she herself has such great respect for? She eventually decides that it might be better to do a little investigation and meet as many of the wives Rory left behind as she can find. Throughout Bess’ search, and through the other subplots of the narrative, Stolls explores marriage in all its complexities and asks piercing questions about the bonds that we form before, during and after marriage, and about identity in the singular and plural sense of coupledom. Stolls’ ability to get her readers pondering and asking questions, not only about her characters but about themselves, was done with a deftness and sensitivity that I found truly refreshing.

But meeting the women doesn’t go exactly as she planned, and aside from her mission, Bess comes to discover a very frightening and dangerous secret about the relationship between her grandparents that may change not only her future, but theirs as well. Blended expertly into the mix of this very eclectic story are some of the most interesting and compelling characters you will find within the pages of any book. From Bess’ homosexual neighbor Cricket, who finagles his way on the cross-country trip, to the grandparents’ mentally challenged neighbor Gerald, a man-boy who may be more important to Bess than she could ever realize, to the irrepressible couple that Bess knows as her gram and gramps, Stolls fills her story with unique people, proving that she’s not only creative, but socially aware as well. Stolls has a gift in creating characters that are not only full of depth and nuance, but quirky and ingenious in their own right.

I loved this book and read compulsively all the way to the end, wondering what was to become of Rory, Bess, and the cast of colorful characters that populated the pages. This is a book to get lost in and savor, and Stolls’ ability to tell an uncommon and extraordinary story will please any reader who loves to get caught up in the absurd and yet somehow commonplace. A great read that kept me turning pages. Recommended heartily.

Author Photo About the Author

Amy Stolls’s young adult novel Palms to the Ground was published in 2005 to critical acclaim and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. She spent years as a journalist covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska before she received an MFA in creative writing from American University. Currently, she is the literature program officer for the National Endowment for the Arts, where she has worked since 1998, advising and collaborating with thousands of writers, translators, editors, booksellers, publishers, educators, and presenters nationwide to keep literature a vital part of American society. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two-year-old son.

Follow Amy on Facebook.

Amy Stolls Discusses The Ninth Wife on Blog Talk Radio.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, May 10th:Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, May 11th:Acting Balanced
Tuesday, May 17th:The Bodacious Pen
Wednesday, May 18th:Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, May 19th:Raging Bibliomania
Monday, May 23rd:Colloquium
Tuesday, May 24th:Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, May 26th:Rundpinne
Friday, May 27th:Books Like Breathing
Tuesday, May 31st:Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, June 1st:Reading Through Life

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


bermudaonion said...

What a fascinating way to explore marriage. If I was Bess, I would be concerned about why he felt it necessary to keep that from me at first. This book sounds really good.

Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of this one, but it does sound good. I confess I want to know why he was married 8 times!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wow, this sounds great, and I agree with Kathy - very clever way to explore marriage. I am so curious about what went on and why 8 times; I've got to get this one!

Jenna said...

This book sounds so intriguing! I really like that the author chose to provide dual narratives, because I don't think Rory's reasonings for eight marriages would have ever come across as believable. Excellent review!

Jenny said...

I've been meaning to read this and am so glad you loved it! Hope to get to it soon!!

Suko said...

Zibilee, as usual you have written an incredible review. When I first read the title of your post I thought it was a book about a king. Eight marriages is seven too many! Amy Stolls' book sounds fascinating.

Geosi said...

Certainly a book to read as I like stories that I would get lost and last find my way back. And eight marriages.....?

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

This is the first I've heard of the book. It looks like a really neat concept and an interesting story. Thanks for the great review!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I knew this book had great potential, and you just confirmed that. Hope to read it this summer. Nice job Heather.

TheBookGirl said...

From your review, it sounds like there are alot of levels to this book, which is not what I would have expected, just reading the synopsis/jacket blurb.
I love the fact that after reading your review, I am now dying to know if they actually do get married!
Great review as always Heather :)

My Novel Thoughts said...

You've got me so curious! Like others, I want to know why eight marriages? Sounds like a unique exploration of relationships. Great review!

Unknown said...

I had the impression that this was a light read but it sounds just the opposite and very interesting. Imagine the shock of meeting a great guy only to find out he's been married 8 previous times?! Oh my Goodness! Bess' solution to meet the past wives is fascinating! I'd be petrified. Thinking about the 8 woman, though,, I have so many questions starting with how alike or different are they and what's their feeling toward Rory? I think it's great that Stolls gives some of the story from Rory's point of view. The dual narrative sounds like a great appraoch to this story.

I love your review. I'm putting this one at the top of my tbr list and hope to read it soon!

Audra said...

This is a great review of a book I've been very leery of -- I just couldn't imagine how the hero could be appealing in the slightest with eight divorces. Glad to see the author explores it in a way that is realistic and moving. I think I'll put this one on the TBR now -- thanks -- yours is the only review to convince me! :)

Jenny said...

You know, as I was reading this, I thought it sounds sort of like a girly-book version of a video game, like the kind of game where you have to collect seven things from seven different places before you can win? I'm not saying that disparagingly either -- it sounds like fun!

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Trisha said...

What a passionate review! You've got me sold.

Darlene said...

This sounds like a fantastic novel! I think I had an eGalley but I'm sure it's expired by now. I have to say though if I found out a man had been married 8 times before me, I'd be running in the other direction and fast! lol. Really great review Heather and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think I would too!

Vasilly said...

Wow! There's so much going on in this book but all of it sounds fascinating.

Unknown said...

This book sounds really interesting. I love a good secret in a book.
Thanks for sharing, great review.

Anonymous said...

You can't go wrong with a book that you can get "lost in and savor" - I love it when I find books like this!

Thanks so much for being on this tour. I'm so glad the book was such a pleasure to read.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the zillions of NetGalley books I need to get to eventually... maybe I'll bump this one to the top of the list. :) It sounds like you really loved it!

Jenners said...

This does sound good!! Though I thought it was about polygamy at first because of the title! You always make me want to read books ... it is getting dangerous to read your blog!!!pi

Melissa said...

This sounds great and has been added to my list to read soon!

Andrea said...

I really enjoyed it, too! I'm glad to see someone liked it as much as I did. I've already recommended it to many reading friends! :)

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