Sunday, July 13, 2014
Book Review: A Woman of Fortune
Although it only aired for a few months before being canceled by ABC, one of my favorite shows of the 2012 television season was GCB (Good Christian B***) The show was an hour-long Desperate Housewives style comedy starring Leslie Bibb as a woman whose husband died after swindling all their friends. She was forced to return to the rich Dallas suburb where she grew up and where residents enjoyed gossiping about her while carrying on their own indiscretions. It was big, southern, hilarious fun.
Author Kellie Coates Gilbert shows there’s an equal amount of juice in writing a dramatic version of the same story, set in the same state. Claire Massey is the "Woman of Fortune." Her husband Tuck is a cattle baron worth nearly a billion dollars; her daughter Lainie’s about to marry a future senator; her son Garrett works with Tuck and married a Texas beauty queen. They have a 40,000 acre ranch and vacation homes all over the world. There are luxurious parties, designer gowns, friendships with politicians and celebrities. The only fly in the ointment is that youngest child Max is a bit of a black sheep, having dropped out of school and moved off the ranch to work at a small newspaper.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Tuck is the personification of that Texas insult, “He’s all hat and no cattle.” In the middle of a fundraiser for Lainie’s fiancée, Tuck is arrested for a massive, Bernie-Madoff-style fraud, led away in handcuffs. And Claire’s world explodes. At first, Claire believes it’s all a big mistake. Maybe Tuck cut a few corners, but there’s no way he deliberately defrauded all those investors. But no. Tuck admits he’s guilty. And it’s not just anonymous bankers and stock brokers he stole from. It’s Claire’s best friend. Her mother. Even their church.
With the family’s public image in tatters, Lainie’s fiancée dumps her, Garrett and his wife move to Houston, and Claire is forced to leave their mansion and move into a two-bedroom condo with her now equally broke mother. While Max, surprisingly, is the only one Claire can really lean on, Lainie takes desperate measures to hang onto the opulent lifestyle she believes she deserves. All the while, Clair grapples with questions of love and forgiveness: How can the love of her life for thirty years be the same man who did these horrible things? How can she possibly forgive him? Should she wait out his twenty-year prison sentence… or move on with another man?
I found A Woman of Fortune to be just as engrossing as GCB, even without the humor. It’s very well written, and Claire is a hugely sympathetic character -- even at the beginning of the book when she reigns as queen of Dallas. Her children, however, are less so – especially Lainie, who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and believes she’s better than other people. Questions of faith come up in natural ways, and Claire finds comfort in the spiritual words of her Hispanic housekeeper, Margarita. While I disagreed with Claire’s dilemma – if someone had done to me and my children what Tuck did to Claire I wouldn’t even consider staying with him – author Gilbert does a wonderful job of establishing their relationship and Claire’s priorities so that her confusion is a natural part of her character.
Gilbert is a former legal investigator who worked on the biggest cattle fraud case in history, and her knowledge is obvious but never inaccessible. Like many women of her status, Claire is relatively clueless of the day-to-day workings of her husband’s business, and Gilbert uses Claire’s naiveté as a way to explain goings-on to the reader. Gilbert is also a Christian, and her faith is obvious in her characters’ struggles.
My only complaint about the book is that there is only one professional woman in the novel, and she only appears briefly toward the end. Lainie has no ambition other than to be a political wife, and Claire never has any dreams that her daughter might have achievements of her own. Garrett’s wife Marcy is a former beauty queen without a job, and Claire’s own mother married for money and constantly urges her daughter to do the same. Claire’s best friend is married to a successful doctor and presumably has no job of her own. Even so, Claire is able to establish her own business with relatively few missteps.
Even with this minor flaw, I enjoyed A Woman of Fortune immensely, devouring the entire book in one sitting. Gilbert has other books coming out in her “Texas Gold” collection, and I look forward to reading them.
Thanks to Revell (Baker Publishing) for the book in exchange for an honest review.