The main relationship in the story (Mildred and Edra) is believable. It’s filled with faults, flaws, and foibles, like any real, adult human romance is (especially one that has been in existence for years). Most books I read, if they feature a relationship, but a rosy edge on it- everything is equal, everyone is either confident or cutely/charmingly shy, nobody needs to talk about where the relationship is and where it is going because apparently both parties are psychic and empathetic, etc.
Mildred defies gender stereotypes (of her day) but isn’t built like a butch lesbian.
Edra is basically a traumatized shut-in, but she isn’t helpless (just co-dependent).
Other highlights that make this novel an impacting read include realism with regard to setting and the functions of everyone in town. You do feel as if you’re there, and you can picture each character clearly with the depth of description Paulette uses. You also know the grey-toned motivations for everyone in town (ok, except Josie) and you understand the function for their gossip, fixation on certain things, and dynamic with their spouses and the other folks in town. It’s a microcosm for communities, as befits that era, and Paulette presents it gracefully and in such a way that you can’t bring yourself to harshly judge anyone in the book (ok, except Josie) because you understand them.
I highly recommend this one for lovers of history, folks from small towns, people who enjoy stories about human struggle, readers who understand hate crimes and prejudice, and I think it will resonate with female readers who have felt judged for their being atypical (or non-stereotypical…or non-conformist).