I received this book for free from Henry Holt and Company, NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.A Wife of Noble Character by Yvonne Georgina Puig
Published by Henry Holt and Company on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Women, Literary, Classics
Format: Electronic ARC
Source: Henry Holt and Company, NetGalley
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This book was inspired by House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, which I haven’t read. As a lifelong resident of Southeast Texas, I was really interested in the Houston setting of this modern version. I enjoyed the writing, the sense of place, and the social commentary, but I wasn’t sold on the love story.
The key to unhappiness—always wantin’ to be somewhere else instead of where you are.
Thirty-year-old Vivienne is the last heir to the Cally Petroleum fortune. While the Cally name remains influential, the fortune has dwindled. Vivienne always thought that there was a certain script to her life, but she’s starting to think that she wants more out of life. Preston Duffin has known Vivienne since childhood and their social circles intersect. He thinks Vivienne is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen and that she can be so much more than she is. Vivienne is stirred by the way Preston makes her think about her life differently and how he awakens a different part of her, a part that she is not entirely comfortable with.
“[Her parents] loved each other enough at one point to marry and make a life—her own life—so she couldn’t only be the product of loss and collapse. The resolution would be a happy, comfortable married life for herself, with years of love to counteract all the fighting.”
Vivienne is trying to figure out her place in life and I liked her willingness to question her life’s course. With no actual money to her name, she decides she can either marry a wealthy man or start mingling with the lower classes. The divergence of her values with her social circle’s become more and more apparent; she is comfortable with her sexuality and sees faith as a more personal endeavor. She starts to feel like there could be more to life than social engagements and finding a husband to support her. On the flip side, she has always had money or prominence to fall back on, so she has never had to deal with consequences or the invisibility that comes with being poor
Religion seemed to be a thing he kept in a special compartment in his brain for the sake of sometimes acting serious, because that was the way he thought Men should be. In this compartment he also kept his opinions on the way Women should be. There was a time for hunting and a time for Jesus, but as far as Vivienne could tell, Jesus was never available during hunting hours, or work hours, and certainly not during the hours he spent receiving blow jobs from her. In the three months, they’d been dating Vivienne had picked up that he had low expectations and little respect for the women he’d had sex with (and from what Vivienne had heard, there’d been many), but of women he took seriously, he expected angelic behavior and the same compartmentalized devotion to Jesus.
I have recently read Everybody Rise and Eligible, which are also modern takes on classic novels with WASPy women on the search for wealthy husbands. I rate A Wife of Noble Character firmly in the middle. It’s not over-the-top ridiculous like Eligible, but it has more humor and a more introspective heroine than Everybody Rise. The story alternates between the perspectives of Vivienne and Preston, but it’s mostly from Vivienne’s perspective. I did not connect to the story immediately; I wasn’t interested until the 10% point when Vivienne begins to interact with her friends at a Memorial Day party.
It was tough living without Texas, even in a place as great as Paris. Still, he was reluctant. It was Texas, after all, and again. He felt very paradoxical and grumpy when he thought about it, remembering vividly all the things he couldn’t stand about it (he ran through his top three: guns, humidity, mosquitos) and how puffy and grand he’d felt in leaving it, and yet—and yet what? Well, he just missed it.
The main reason I chose this book is that it’s set in Houston. It is fun to be able to picture the actual setting, rather than Generic Boulevard #3. There are some fun bits of Texas history mentioned too! The personalities portrayed were so familiar to me: the “devout” boyfriend with inconsistent views on sex, the good ‘ol boy businessman, and the sassy, folksy mom full of sexist advice. I loved the book most when it was in social commentary mode. At one point Vivienne commits a social faux pax and the advice to rectify the situation is simultaneously amusing and horrifying. I also laughed at the ultimate East Texas argument-ender: “I’m not gonna debate Scripture with you.” One of my favorite characters in the book was from my hometown of Beaumont. This character is wise, has a great sense of perspective, and fled Beaumont as soon as she could! 😉 (For reference, the Beaumont-Port Arthur area was ranked 6th on MarketWatch’s list of miserable cities.) Another favorite was Vivienne’s frenemy Karlie, a lifestyle blogger with a mean streak.
Nothing in her experience had prepared her for being kissed by a man with whom she couldn’t see her life spelled out, should she choose to spend her life with him. His kiss opened a door in her mind, as most kisses did, except she couldn’t see past the door into the next month and year and decade. She couldn’t even see the next day—not even, she realized, the next hour.
My least favorite part was the romantic drama between Vivienne and Preston. I never felt that their history was authentic and I didn’t want the ending I was supposed to want. I really disliked being inside Preston’s head. He gives off a “nice guy” vibe. The book opens with Preston and Vivienne running into each other at Rice University quad. They go back to his apartment and he proceeds to analyze and critique her life. “He was always jabbing her, questioning her, finding fault with her desires.” His behavior and hypocrisy are eventually addressed, but I didn’t ever see a reason for these two people to be so enchanted with each other. We only directly witness three major interactions between them before they are separated: 1) the aforementioned quad conversation 2) a few hours together at a Memorial Day party 3) lustful moments at her best friend’s wedding. Preston has a fixation on Vivienne’s beauty and seems to like who she could be more than who she is. I might have grudgingly accepted the ending, but I was disappointed by the epilogue. It didn’t feel earned. View Spoiler » It was one of those tidy romantic comedy endings, where every minor character plays a part. « Hide Spoiler However, I did think the last line was a nice touch.
We’re all trying to be braver and more compassionate people than we are, and when this is too much to ask of ourselves, at least we’re trying. I think it means something to try.
While I didn’t like the romance, I liked Vivienne and I felt compelled to keep reading and see how her story was going to end. People who liked or almost liked Everybody Rise will enjoy this book. I’m going to give myself a break from this genre.
The changes that had brought her back here instead felt as subtle as the changes in the big trees arching against the pink sky. They looked no different to her eye, but the time had breathed through them as well.