Set in 17th century Northeast, primarily in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, The Reputed Wife is the story of Goodwife Herodias “Herod” Gardner a/k/a Hicks and her struggle to free herself from the bonds of a rash marriage to John Hicks. After Hicks beats her to within an inch of her life, Herod finds solace, love, and security in George Gardner, but in the process loses the children that she had with Hicks. It is the story of redemption and her efforts to vindicate herself in a patriarchal puritanical world.
The Reputed Wife is also the story of Rhode Island’s developing, and at times rocky, relationship with neighboring areas. A turf war between the governors over their fiefdoms is in progress at the start of the novel and continues throughout. Complicating this is that Rhode Island is viewed as an unruly step child that no one wants because it befriends Quakers and any others who have the audacity to call attention and protest against abuses, whether leveled by Puritans, government, or individuals seeking vengeance.
Butler’s writing is easy to get into, though at times, it is hard to tell who is speaking, particularly early on when the reader does not have the necessary background. In spite of this, the story resonated with me; I could identify with Herod in her quest to determine what she wanted out of life. In her time, women’s options were limited and as a result she finds her voice, in some rather painful ways. This pain is not borne in vain, however. Herod finds that the simple good life of home and hearth can be compelling, testimony, maybe more so than the vocal martyrdom engaged in by her friend, Mary Dyer and other Quakers. Butler also brings out through Herod’s struggle with recognizing when God has spoken that sometimes a quiet faith can be as powerful as fire and brimstone oratory.
In terms of the structure, I have no complaints, though I would have liked to have had the ending a bit more fleshed out. Herod’s story ended too quickly. I envisioned more detail of the understated tug of war for Herod’s attention and heart that was occurring between George Gardner and John Porter by bringing this conflict out in the open between Herod and Porter and then by giving the reader what my husband calls a snail’s eye view of Herod’s decision to resolve to make amends with Gardner and reclaim her life with him and their children.
All in all, The Reputed Wife was excellent and I learned a lot. If Goodreads allowed partial stars, I would have given the novel a 4.75.
A Layered Pages Review.
By Susan Berry