Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a wonderful read by one of my very favourite authors, a little different - a less contemporary setting to most of the titles by this author which I've read before. It's a period novel set in the 1960s but not the swinging 60s of my childhood but the bleak and rather grim setting of the rural backwoods of North Carolina of the USA and it focusses on the lives of two young women from very different backgrounds whose lives become irrevocably intertwined.
Young wife Jane has just got married to successful doctor Robert, fresh from the honeymoon she embarks on a new career as a Social worker much to her husbands disapproval, unlike her peers - stay at home wives who function as home makers, obedient and subservient to their husbands.
Thrown into her new role as Social worker she has barely been introduced to the families she will be looking after when her mentor is forced to withdraw her support and abandons Jane days into her new job. One of the families on her caseload is a family working in the tobacco fields and living in poverty. Which is where we meet Ivy - just 15 years old Ivy holds together her small and fractured family of her older sister Mary Ella, called feebleminded by the society which sees fit to classify Welfare recipients, baby William adored by both girls and their aging and infirm grandmother Nonnie.
This family live hand to mouth in a run down tied cottage, little better than a shack on the land of their employer, Tobacco plantation owner Davison Gardiner. They live and work alongside negro families and Jane discovers prejudices and racial divides in her own social hierarchy which are almost as hard to accept as those in the racial divides between poor black and white families.
Jane quickly takes Ivy's small family to heart and vows to care for them as much as she is able, but she soon discovers plans have already been set in motion which cause her to have grave misgivings and as she becomes more deeply involved in Ivy's situation, her position seems set to threaten not only the sisters future but put her own marriage and job at risk.
The story is a superb family drama about people, and secrets, nasty vile, things which lie hidden and terrible, cruel things which really happened to real families, so recently its almost beyond belief.
A terrifically powerful and wonderfully moving story which I loved reading despite the disturbing and distasteful subject matter of the Eugenics project which I had never heard of before reading this book.