Wives by Beatriz Williams combines
romance, secrecy, and suspense. As with all her books, she
concentrates on a mystery, the murder of a rich playboy, and
social issues, class conflicts. Intertwined within the plot
are complex relationships that connect all the characters.
The setting plays an important role in this novel, just as
it had in William’s blockbuster novel, A Hundred
Summers. Both take place on an island with an obvious
clash between the haves and have nots, where all are determined
to keep the outside world from its shores. In this book, Winthrop
Island, off the New England coast, is the summer retreat for
the old wealth and elite and the yearly home of the working
class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers as well
as their families.
Williams noted, “Winthrop Island is inspired by Fisher’s
Island, which is off the coast of Connecticut. Until the early
1920s, it was farmland. It was then developed where half of
the island has beautiful homes and a golf course. It was very
difficult to research because people don’t like to talk
about Fisher’s Island. Most of the Island is behind
a guard’s booth and it is isolated since the only way
to get there is by ferry. Older money came there to escape
and use it as a retreat. Families came there year after year
during the summer, mingling only with themselves. They went
to the Island to build silos around themselves.”
The story is centered around Miranda Schulyer, told in different
time frames. In 1951, she was an eighteen-year-old just graduating
high school, and then it fast forwards to 1969 where she is
a thirty-six-year-old actress. All the incidents in the book
go back to how Miranda was affected by them, whether the death
of her father, the murder of her step-father, the relationships
between Joseph and Isobel, also Miranda’s sister by
marriage, and her true love, Joseph.
Coming from a modest family Miranda is thrown into a world
of wealth and elitism after her mother marries Hugh Fisher.
His great-grandfather made the family rich by taking advantage
of the Victorian hygiene craze. She is drawn to the son of
the lighthouse keeper and a lobster fisherman, Joseph, on
summer break from Brown University. Realizing she is falling
in love with Joseph her dreams are shattered after he is accused
of murdering her step-father and she is banished from the
island for defending him.
“I wanted to explore the relationship between the summer
residents and the year-round residents, made up of the working
class. The differences included religion, Catholicism of the
ordinary folks, and the Episcopal Church of the WASP culture
that was only opened during the summer. In addition, there
was a class and wealth difference. I wanted to explore all
She returns in 1969, now a famous actress, trying to renew
her relationship with her step-sister, Isobel, and her mother.
While Joseph is trying to survive as a fugitive, Miranda is
also escaping, her difficult past. Miranda wants to reignite
the love she had for Joseph and prove his innocence. But in
doing so, the Island's secrets begin to unravel.
“I wanted to show how those who fought in World War
II were from the elite class of leaders in the military, political,
and industrial world. But during the years the story takes
place in they chose to exist on the money their grandparents
made. They essentially became spectators instead of participants.
This generation prized itself on preservation rather than
innovation, so they became static. The future does not belong
to people who don’t want to change. They never questioned
the values of society. I chose 1969 because of the moon landing.
It has the symbolism of showing that this generation was just
deep spectators. Once they went into preservation mode they
wrote off their own relevance.”
The book delves into the themes of heroism, sacrifice, and
redemption within the self-contained society. In some ways,
it will remind people of “Westside Story” as love
conflicts with power.