Lee Fullbright’s The Angry Woman Suite is a heartbreaking tale of historical fiction spanning six decades. There are three storytellers: Elyse, Aidan, and Francis, each offering a different perspective of a murder and its effect on one family over three generations. There are many seemingly evil women, bordering on stereotypes at times. The real lesson, though, is that people are complicated, not all bad or all good, though perhaps more one than the other. It’s worth reading.
I found many aspects of Fullbright’s novel intriguing, including her portrayal of the public perception of divorce, marriage, and disabilities and the cyclical nature of child abuse. Diana Grayson declares in 1955, “divorce is unacceptable,” telling her daughter to stop talking about her “real daddy,” who had passed away, because “where we’re going, people might [mistakenly] think I’ve been divorced.” Fear of divorce and/or marriage motivate several characters to remain in unhappy, unhealthy unions or to shy away from the institution of marriage, adding to the drama of the novel.
This story takes place in a time period when divorces were difficult to obtain, when sparring couples had to assign fault in order to legally sever their union. That changed with evolving attitudes about women and sex in the 1960s and 70s. California became the first state to provide residents with no-fault divorce in 1969. Pennsylvania was one of the later states, amending its laws in 1980 to provide for no-fault divorce when a marriage was “irretrievably broken.” 23 Pa.C.S. § 3301(c) & (d). The ability to divorce without legally assigning blame has made divorce more accessible to individuals in unhappy marriages and has reduced the stigma associated with it. The dysfunction between the characters in The Angry Woman Suite may have played out differently in a post-1960s world, though I imagine it wouldn’t have been any less dramatic. Matters of the heart are always dramatic.
I was also struck by Stella, a woman with a cleft lip and palate, who repulses some of her family and is fiercely loved by others. Her own parents saw her as a monster who should remain hidden. She became the perpetual scapegoat, a role she accepted in light of her situation and loyalty to a family that was not loyal to her. While I imagine there are still some people who view individuals with disabilities harshly, the United States is a different place after the disability rights movement’s major legislative achievements, including the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, laws that send a message of inclusion.
Another compelling theme in this novel is the cyclical nature of abuse. Some members of this family are abused as children and then grow up to abuse others. As a mother, I find it especially difficult to read novels about child abuse, and I found myself judging the mothers in this novel for not protecting their children, momentarily forgetting that there are many reasons parents may turn a blind eye, including fear for their own safety or their concern that ineffective intervention could exacerbate the abuse.
Overall, The Angry Woman Suite is an intriguing novel about complicated people, at times perplexing and confusing, but always interesting. It would appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction with elements of suspense and drama. Also, if you’re interested in early American history or are from the Philadelphia region, the book has additional appeal. We take Revolutionary War history seriously in Philadelphia, the home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which may or may not have been rung when the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776. Much of the story takes place in areas surrounding Philadelphia, such as Chadds Ford, where the major Battle of the Brandywine took place. It’s a beautiful part of Pennsylvania with a rich history, of which Fullbright makes great use.