Friday, June 10, 2016

A Wife of Noble Character ~ Yvonne Georgina Puig (Pub. Date 8/2/2016)

Puig, Yvonne Georgina. 2016. A Wife of Noble Character. New York, NY: Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 978-1627795555. $27.00 USD

I adore contemporary adaptations of classic literature, so I was intrigued to see an attempt to modernize Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth.  I grew up in Houston, so I enjoyed reading references to places I’ve been and the representation of the types of people I’ve encountered in that sprawling city.

Vivienne Cally is part of the privileged Houston society, but in name only.  The sole child of a wealthy family, she is orphaned while young, and has been raised by a stern aunt.  The family money has long since been depleted, and though Vivienne enjoys being part of the Houston social elite, she has always been on the outside looking in.  She strongly feels, at the beginning of the novel, that her only goal in life is to marry the rather boorish Bucky in order to have the stability she so longs for.

Preston Duffin, childhood friend of Vivienne and her social circle, has never had the wealth that they share, and is finishing up a degree in architecture in order to make a name for himself.  He has long been enamored with Vivienne, but realizes that he will never be able to compete with the wealthier men surrounding her.  However, he is her friend and tries to help her see that there is more to her than her outward assets.  This novel is considered an examination of social manners, and first time author Puig creates an almost pitch perfect example, updated for the 21st century - including references to sexual situations and language one would not find in the classic examples.

However, I feel that to get the big picture of this book, one needs to be a bit knowledgeable of its classic counterpart, The House of Mirth; otherwise, Vivienne comes across as fairly shallow, and her motivations – to marry Bucky and improve her position in society – seem unenlightened in this day and age. On the other hand, by sticking with this novel, one gradually witnesses Vivienne’s growth as a person, one who has something to offer other than her name and looks.  The characters in the book are larger than life and may seem like caricatures, except I’ve known some of those people!

Ultimately, the best characters are Vivienne and Preston, who keep ebbing and flowing in and out of each other’s lives until they’ve reached a level of esteem in themselves that allows them to be their true selves with each other.  I much prefer the ending of this book than Edith Wharton’s.  Enough tragedies are around us every day and in many of the dark novels so popular right now.  By the end, the reader feels Vivienne and Preston deserve their chance at happiness: they’ve worked so hard for it, you see.

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