A new historical novel by former Redding resident Stacia Brown Pelletier will come out in April.
The Half Wives, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is Pelletier’s second novel. Her first, Accidents of Providence (2012), was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize.
Set in San Francisco in 1897, The Half Wives follows the stories of two women, Lucy Christenson and Marilyn Plageman, whose lives revolve around the same man. Over the course of one momentous day, Henry’s two families finally meet, and the collision of lives and histories that follows leaves no one unchanged.
“I like to call The Half Wives a dysfunctional love story,” said Pelletier. “But it’s also a story about how we grieve, and how we do—or don’t—move on from the past, both our own individual histories and the collective history of our cities.”
The Half Wives includes a subplot exploring the closure of San Francisco’s notorious city cemetery, once located in the Outer Richmond district, a political battle that pitted developers and neighborhood groups against advocates for immigrants and the poor. The city cemetery held the remains of the city’s poorest and sometimes-ostracized inhabitants, and the effort of city developers to remove those bodies in order to repurpose the land for other uses became a chapter in the city’s history that is still not well known today. (What used to be the city cemetery is now the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Lincoln Park Golf Course.)
Pelletier, who attended high school in Redding, graduated from Westmont College in Santa Barbara and moved to San Francisco for a year afterward, where she worked as a shelter monitor at The Episcopal Sanctuary, a homeless shelter. She went on to earn graduate degrees in religion and historical theology from Emory University.
Pelletier got the idea for her novel while walking her dogs through a historic cemetery just a mile from her own home in Decatur, Ga.
“I saw three headstones sharing a single plot,” she said. “In the middle was the name of a man. On the left was the name of his wife. On the right was the name of another woman. By her years and by her name she was clearly neither his wife nor his mother nor his daughter. But somehow this woman had managed to be buried right beside him. From there my imagination took off. I wondered what it would be like to try to keep a secret as significant as a long-term relationship from the person in your life who ought to be closer to you than anyone—your own spouse.”
The story took off from there, combining with Pelletier’s love of the history of San Francisco. She worked with local historian John Freeman and the Western Neighborhoods Project, a group of noted San Francisco historians, to ensure that the research components of her novel met the standards of those experts who know the history of the “Outside Lands” better than anyone.
In an early review of The Half Wives, Kirkus reviews noted, “Well-crafted characters struggling alone with shared grief furnishes a coursing river on which this intriguing story effortlessly flows. Tough to put down.”
Publishers Weekly calls the writing “moving and enthralling,” adding, “Pelletier keeps readers hooked right up to the book’s satisfying conclusion.”
Pelletier, who is beginning working on a third novel, juggles writing time with the demands of a job as Emory University School of Medicine’s senior director of development for brain health and the neurosciences.
For more information on Pelletier and The Half Wives, visit facebook.com/staciapelletierwriter. The book is available for pre-order through online booksellers such as Amazon.