In this captivating historical novel, full of superstition, suspense, and secrets, a woman comes to a North Carolina town and rocks the precarious equilibrium of the relationships there. From the start, Over the Plain Houses is filled with a sense of dangerous foreboding: the arrival of USDA agent Virginia Furman is described in stark, plain terms, with Franks hinting at the violence to come. From there, the novel moves toward its powerful climax, with a sense of inevitability that reverberates throughout the novel.
Irenie Lambey is a housewife and mother who is drawn to the warmth and promises of the new agent in town, Virginia, who initially captures her attention by praising her son’s intelligence and suggesting the possibility of a better school for him. But the relationship between Irenie and Virginia becomes complicated—Irenie’s husband, a recently minted fundamentalist preacher, is increasingly suspicious of both women, and Irenie herself has a few secrets of her own. Feeling trapped within her marriage, she wanders the woods at night to satisfy her desire to be outside, only fueling her husband’s suspicions that something dark and sinister—and possibly supernatural—is going on.
Over the Plain Houses is a personal drama that zeroes in on a few characters in order to show the cascading impact of change on a family and town. The conflict between Irenie and her husband is present from the start, but the divisions between them stretch over the course of the novel as Irenie seeks her freedom and her husband becomes increasingly jealous and suspicious of her. Franks presents a marriage where love is not just about compassion and closeness, but sacrifice, devastation, and possession. What results is a powerful, at times difficult, novel about the coming apart of a family. This book is recommended for historical fiction fans who are looking for powerful, emotional reads with the ability to illustrate all the different shades of the human heart.
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.