Augusta Branson was born during the time of slavery in the south. Her family owned several slaves and she is accustomed to that lifestyle as well as society. Soon after the end of slavery she marries a Northener who was knows to help the newly freed slaves. This made her a pariah in her circles. She was largely unaware of this until her husband died.
Augusta grew up and married into an extreemley sheltered existence. She had little knowledge of what was going on around her with the slaves, war and politics until her husband came home suffering from blood fever and died shortly thereafter leaving her to pick up the pieces.
Her cousin, The Judge, intervenes on her behalf to help settle her estate. The more questions she asks about her husband's business and the more she looks into his dealings the more she begins to question who she can trust to look after her and her son, Henry. She begins to question society, racial separation and the steadfast politics and ideals that many in her small southern town are desperately clinging to.
I must say that at first, I really didn't like Augusta. She was cold, especially to her son, and didn't come across as I would assume a character that was genuinely looking racism, politics and southern society in the eye would. But, the more I read, the more I saw the subtleties the Polites pointed out. He did a wonderful job showing how truly sheltered from the world Augusta was and how firmly she held on to the sensibilities and societal workings she knew. She very gradually came out of herself to take a good look around her and see what was going on. Polites has the reader taking that journey with her, we aren't given any hints from other characters into what is truly going on with the estate, The Judge, the blood fever her husband dies of and of his business dealings. We slowly find out who Augusta can and cannot trust.
I liked the picture Polites painted of the small town. The unbearable heat during Augusta's struggles is practically a character in itself. At first people are just blaming illnesses and deaths on the heat, which isn't unheard of there. Then people start leaving town because of the blood fever.
I must say, this is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I'm not a southerner, but I do live in the south and this was such an unexpected pleasure into the societal history, racism and slavery. I was surprised when I turned to the dustjacket and found Taylor Polites is a man. The subtlities with which he describes this shelterd, somewhat spoiled woman are quite good. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to another and am going to read it again myself.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.