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The Ninth Wife

The Ninth Wife

3.7 45
by Amy Stolls

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“I love this book’s deft, fresh take on male-female relationships.”
—Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me

“A vibrant, nuanced novel about marriage, identity, and the moment when we realize that the shimmer of fantasy pales next to the tumultuous reality of ordinary, everyday


“I love this book’s deft, fresh take on male-female relationships.”
—Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me

“A vibrant, nuanced novel about marriage, identity, and the moment when we realize that the shimmer of fantasy pales next to the tumultuous reality of ordinary, everyday happiness.”
—Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel

In The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls, Bess Gray has just learned that the man she loves, the man who asked for her hand in marriage, has been married eight times before. This funny, touching, and surprising novel follows Bess on her cross-country odyssey to learn about her oft-wed fiancé from the eight ex-spouses who came before. Stolls, an acclaimed author of Young Adult novels and winner of the Parents’ Choice Gold Award brilliantly explores the very grown-up world of male-female relationships and family dynamics in the delightful, unforgettable new masterwork of contemporary women’s fiction.

Editorial Reviews

Sarah Pekkanen
…a witty, satisfying novel with a clever structure…There's something so sweetly endearing about both Bess and Rory that readers will pull for them, knowing the odds may be against them—even against marriage itself—but hoping that this time, true love will triumph.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Bess Gray, single and in her thirties, is starting to despair of ever finding a decent man in the Washington D.C. area. But that all changes when she meets Irish musician Rory McMillan. They hit it off immediately and within a few months he asks for her hand. What he doesn't say is that she would be accompanying him on his ninth walk down the aisle. Once he confesses he's been married eight times before, Bess doesn't know what to think—or what to do. So she takes a cross country trip with her older neighbor, Cricket, a gay man, and her grandparents, who will move into an assisted care facility when they reach Arizona. Along the way, Bess hunts down Rory's ex-wives and try to figure out what sort of a man could have eight of them, in the process learning a great deal about relationships, love, and trust. Stolls's (Palms to the Ground) first foray into adult fiction offers a nuanced take on relationships. Though the book shines most brightly in Rory's reflections, the contrivance of the road trip mars an otherwise interesting tale. (May)
Marisa de los Santos
"I love this book’s deft, fresh take on male-female relationships. As Amy Stolls takes us into the minds, hearts, and histories of Bess and Rory, we grapple with the thorny, thrilling truth that love is always complicated, always—every time, every day—a risk."
Carolyn Parkhurst
"THE NINTH WIFE is a vibrant, nuanced novel about marriage, identity and the moment when we realize that the shimmer of fantasy pales next to the tumultuous reality of ordinary, everyday happiness."
Library Journal
When Bess Gray, a folklorist in Washington, DC, is about to turn 35, she falls for a charming Irishman she meets at a party. There's just one problem: it turns out that Rory McMillan has been married eight times before. How can Bess ever trust this guy? The plot of the novel involves a meandering car trip from Washington to Tucson, as Bess drives her elderly, frail grandparents to their new Arizona retirement community. Along the way, Bess plans to meet with as many of Rory's ex-wives as she can find to hear their stories. Also on a mission of his own is gay friend Cricket. The premise of this road trip/chick-lit novel is not very believable, but the grandparents' bittersweet love-hate relationship adds some depth to the story. VERDICT While the conclusion is predictable, the author is clearly having a great time with her quirky characters, as she explores what makes or breaks a marriage. Best suited to fans of the genre.—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

The Ninth Wife

A Novel
By Amy Stolls

Harper Paperbacks

Copyright © 2011 Amy Stolls
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-185189-6

Chapter One

Pick a partner," says Bess's karate teacher, "and get a tombstone."
As Bess learned nine months ago when she began
her schooling in Tae Kwon Do, a tombstone is a black rectangular
punching bag that you hold against your torso as a target
for someone to kick you repeatedly in the stomach. Or, ideally,
your solar plexus, your myung chi, the soft spot at the top of the
rib cage that if kicked directly with a powerful eap chagi, say, by
a one-hundred-ninety-pound software engineer from Bethesda,
can knock the breath out of you and send you flying across the
room into a pile of smelly sparring gear. Tombstones, Bess has
come to realize, are a good thing. Tombstones can save lives.
The dojo where they practice karate and self-defense twice
a week is an old elementary school gymnasium in the heart of
a Latino community. It smells of sweat and mildew. The white
ceiling, veined with cracks and water stains, sheds paint chips
onto the buckled wooden floor where the occasional cockroach
scurries from the dark corners behind the mats. Only two of the
tall windows open, but to lift the industrial-strength glass is to
risk dropping it and smashing a finger. Bess looks around at the
other students in their white gis cinched with belts in white, yellow,
green, and blue. She sees pairs make eye contact, bow to
each other, get ready for the next drill, and she realizes she is the
only one left holding up her hand, signaling her availability.
"Watch this time," says her sensei. He is a sexy second
degree black belt with the body of a gladiator, a man who knows
how to swing his nun chucks. He points her off to the side. "Come
in next round."
In elementary school Bess was an A-for-effort player, not the
last teammate to be picked but never the first. What she lacked in
grace and coordination she made up for with good sportsmanship
happy to be one of the ducks who clapped for the goose. It's
possible her tendency to flinch at anything thrown at her could
be traced to a year of red rubber balls flung meanly (though,
in retrospect, perhaps flirtatiously) at her nose by one greasy
haired, hygiene-challenged Douglas Lillicrop in the third grade.
Regardless, she didn't see herself scoring points or winning races
or really venturing beyond the fitness trends of the decades—
aerobics, Jazzercise, Pilates, yoga—until she saw an ad for the
D.C. Karate Association.
The first time she wore her gi she also mistakenly wore her
lucky Valentine's Day panties that showed through where she
sweated like a boiled lobster in gauze. And last week in the turtle
tot class where she loves to volunteer she bopped one of the cutest
tots on the noggin with a foam noodle to get his guards up and
he responded by throwing up on her feet. So there were setbacks.
Still, working out at the dojo usually makes her feel upbeat and
alive, and a force to be reckoned with. In the girls' bathroom one
time, an eight-year-old in the ninja class caught her confronting
her own reflection in the mirror above the thigh-high sink, saying,
You talking to me? You talking to ME? The little girl wanted
to know why she was saying that. Bess laughed and said she was
just practicing looking tough. Well then sorry, but it's not working,
the girl told her. I see you around. You're too nice. She suggested
Bess get a gold front tooth, tattoo her knuckles, and stop smiling
so much. Then you be badass, she said. Bess thanked her for the
So Bess might not appear badass but she feels that way sometimes
and loves it. She loves the power in thinking of herself in
simple warfare terms: you kick, punch, strike; you block,
protect, defend. An ebb and flow of pure primal instincts, the body
an arsenal of weapons—forehead, back of the head, knees,
elbows, feet, fists in various formations, fingers for grabbing and
jabbing. For the first time in a long time, she's in good shape and
feels confident in her physical self.
Her emotional self, on the other hand, is another story.
"Switch," says her sensei, and Bess bows to a thick, squat
man with a hairline that begins on the top of his head. He begins
kicking. Bess tightens her stomach behind the tombstone to
absorb the blows, keenly aware that today is her thirty-fifth birthday
and here she is getting kicked in the gut. Which, in a sense,
is a manifestation of how her birthday began this morning when
she saw Sonny.
She was getting into the car of her close friend, Cricket—a
sixty-six-year-old retired mortgage broker who lives on the first
floor of her building. Cricket cooks her casseroles, pulls dead
leaves off her plants, and brags about his Shar-Pei, Stella, named
after his favorite character in A Streetcar Named Desire. He is
celibate and gay, and gossip is to him as gasoline is to his black Buick
LeSabre. He began visiting Bess often and unannounced two
years ago after she organized a community support effort on his
behalf. Before that she had only exchanged cordial hellos in the
corridor with him and his flamboyant partner and, if there was
time, commented on the weather and scratched his pooch's ears.
But the news of his partner's death from a sudden staph infection
hit her hard for reasons she couldn't explain. She'd see Cricket
sitting at his window, alone, lonely, sad, and distant. One morning
she posted notices on her neighbors' doors and coordinated
a schedule of dinners, errands, and, if he desired, company to
help him cope. To everyone else he posted a notice in the lobby
of sincere gratitude. To Bess he bowed, introduced himself anew
with his hand over his heart, and said he would be forever grateful
for such kindness. Bess has thrived on his friendship ever
"Hey, Bess," she heard from across the street. She had just
opened the car door. "Bess, its Sonny."
"Oh my God, this is going to be good," murmured Cricket
from the driver's seat, peeking over his sunglasses. They
watched Sonny tug a pregnant woman toward them like a suit-
case on wheels.
Bess had no time to block and defend. "Sonny," she said,
more as an identifier than a greeting. Sonny was a beautiful
thirty-year-old Asian-American Southerner, and that mix alone
had been enough to get her attention three years ago when he
pulled his supermarket cart up behind hers and said she had
nahce-lookin' onyens. He was a graphic designer who worked at
home and had time to woo her. Over the six months they dated
he was full of surprises, and she loved that. He played the
harmonica, quoted Chomsky, and meditated each morning to try to
cure his sciatica. He was strange, but she was strangely drawn
to him, and when he ended it, it was not because she wasn't
strange enough for him (as she suspected) but because—and he
was brutally frank about this—her age scared him. He didn't
want to think at all about marriage and especially not about
"You look good, Bess," he said. "You change your hair?"
"My hair? Probably not." Rebuking every suggestion any
hairdresser had ever given her to branch out, Bess's straight,
thick, dark brown hair has always stopped above, at, or just
below her shoulders, depending on her mood and the season. Often
she defaults to putting it up loosely in a clip, always making sure
she has a lock of it handy to fidget with the way she used to do in
adolescence— twirling it around her finger and clamping it
between her lips.
Sonny looked the same: goatee, black hair hanging in his eyes,
runner's physique, flip-flops, hemp necklace, thick knuckles.
"What have you been up to, Sonny?" said Bess, looking
down at the pregnant girl's protrusion.
The girl looked at Sonny, then smiled at Bess. "Sonnyboy's
always up to something," she said, patting the large bulge under
her peasant shirt. She had long soft red hair and a scattering of
freckles on her cheeks. "I'm Gaia," she said, pronouncing it Gay-a.
Bess nodded hello.
"So where you headed?" asked Sonny.
"No kidding." Sonny made a few karate chops as seen on TV.
"I bet you can beat me up now." He leaned into Gaia. "Baby, she
can kick mah ay-ass."
Cricket, observing all this from inside the car, choked down
a laugh.
"What's that?" asked Gaia, pointing to the seat.
"My old belt."
"How come it's not black?" said Sonny, tossing a few fake
punches to her shoulder.
"It's a pearl belt. From when I first started. I'm a white belt
"Pearl? For real? What's next, lavender?"
Bess contemplated a demonstration: a palm thrust to the
nose, a kick to the groin. "Pearl," said Gaia, like an interruption,
something she pulled from the air.
"What, honey?"
"Pearl," she repeated, dreamily. "That's it, Sonny. That's the
name for our baby."
"Pearl," he said. "Yeah, yeah. It's al-raht." They rocked their
foreheads together.
"Well, if you'll excuse me," said Bess, getting into the car, "I
have to go."
"Yes," said Cricket, "we do have to go. It's Bess's birthday
today, after all."
Bess shot him a look.
"No way. Happy birthday," said Sonny. "You celebrating this
Cricket started to say, "She's having a huge blowout par—"
but Bess interrupted. "I'm not a big birthday person. I like staying
home alone."
Gaia looked like she accumulated the world's grief. "That's
so sad," she said.
Bess glared at her through a long silence until Cricket finally
ended the encounter. "Okay then. Off we go. Enjoy your day,
you two." Bess waved good-bye and got into the car.
"He's having a baby," she said after two stop signs.
"Technically," said Cricket, "she's having the baby and he
was probably as yillied as you when he first heard the news."
"What is yillied? That's not a word."
"Darling, who knows the Queen's English better, you or
me?" He pointed a manicured finger at her, then picked a
crumb off his V-necked shirt, which hung loosely over his large
"Good point. He doesn't look yillied now, though. He looks
"For how long? You know as well as I do reality's a mean ol'
nasty pit bull gonna bite him right in that cute little ass of his, bite
him hard, bite a big chunk offa that—"
"I got it, thank you."
Cricket stopped abruptly at a yellow light and Bess's head
lurched forward, then hit the neck rest behind her. "All I'm saying
is," he went on, "he wasn't for you."
"You always say that."
They drove past an outdoor flea market, a police station, an
apartment building under renovation. Pedestrians weaved in
and out of the slow-moving traffic. For much of her adult life,
Bess has carried on through ups and downs with an even-keeled
contentment and indulgence in daily comforts: NPR Morning
Edition, her travel mug of Good Earth tea, her half-mile walk
to work, mid-afternoon squares of dark chocolate, an evening
shower, Jon Stewart, her crossword puzzle, and her down
comforter. She's never been one for drama or complaints, knowing
very well how lucky she is to have an income, relative safety, and
more freedoms than most. But she also happens to be a thirty-
something living in a city, with an ache for companionship and
kids, and bad luck in the dating realm. Even though she pays
little attention to fashion trends, prefers film fests to cocktail
parties, and has only one or two close girlfriends, she knows she fits
the stereotype. Case in point: Blissful Ex-Boyfriend has glowing
New Pregnant Girlfriend while Still-Single Ex-Girlfriend, who
discovers said Ex-Boyfriend with Pregnant Girlfriend, spirals
downward into a Super Crabby Mood.
"All of this," said Cricket, looking at her. "It's about tonight,
isn't it?"
"All of what?"
"All of this," he repeated, gesturing as if wiping his palm on
the invisible shell of her negativity.
Bess looked away. "No, it's fine."
"That's very convincing. Honey, you're going to meet the
man of your steamy dreams tonight, I'm telling you. What about
that fiddle player Gabrielle met at a bar last week? You told me
she invited him. What was his name, Patrick Sean Finnegan
O'Shaughnessy . . ."
"His name's Rory."
"So there you go." Cricket pulled up in front of the school.
"Listen. Sweetheart. Try to put the happy in happy birthday
today, okay? And don't talk to me about being too old. I have
hemorrhoids on my hemorrhoids. But you . . . you look ten years
younger than you are, you sexy little Tinker Bell . . . no wrinkles,
perky breasts, girlish figure . . ."
"Hairy arms, hook nose, fat ass."
"Your ass is not fat. It's . . . grabbable."
"Great." Actually, she had managed to stave off the saddle-
bags she often acquires during winter thanks to karate and a
near-religious adherence to a daily workout DVD she got at a
yard sale, with a woman on the cover so buff she looked bionic.
"Say good-bye to your jiggly thighs and watch your rear disappear!"
it said on the cover. Well all right, she had said.
"Bess, seriously," said Cricket, gently. "Today let your
friends do nice things for you. You deserve to be happy today of
all days."


Excerpted from The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls Copyright © 2011 by Amy Stolls. Excerpted by permission of Harper Paperbacks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Marisa de los Santos
“I love this book’s deft, fresh take on male-female relationships. As Amy Stolls takes us into the minds, hearts, and histories of Bess and Rory, we grapple with the thorny, thrilling truth that love is always complicated, always—every time, every day—a risk.”
Carolyn Parkhurst
“THE NINTH WIFE is a vibrant, nuanced novel about marriage, identity and the moment when we realize that the shimmer of fantasy pales next to the tumultuous reality of ordinary, everyday happiness.”
Sarah Pekkanen
“THE NINTH WIFE is a witty, satisfying novel with a clever structure. . . . There’s something so sweetly endearing about both Bess and Rory that readers will pull for them, knowing the odds may be against them. . . but hoping that this time, true love will triumph.”

Meet the Author

Amy Stolls's young adult novel Palms to the Ground was published in 2005 to critical acclaim and was a Parents' Choice Gold Award winner. A former environmental journalist who covered the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, she is currently a literature program officer for the National Endowment for the Arts. She lived in Washington, DC, with her husband and son.

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Ninth Wife 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
bookchelle More than 1 year ago
Reality is that there is no perfect love story. It's not as simple as boy meets girl, they fall in love, and happily ever after. Sometimes, relationships and families aren't like what you see on TV, in the movies, or what you read in books. Amy Stolls told a great story of love, forgiveness, and finding out what it means to open your heart. Bess is 35 and single. She takes karate classes to strengthen her inner self, her physical self, and hopes to obtain confidence that her instructor talks about. She is a folklorist, in love with the history and past that she longs to have. She was raised by her grandparents, lives in front of a man named Cricket and a dog named Stella, and is best friends with a very outspoken individual. She has lived her life convinced that she is not worthy of the great love that everyone seems to have experience. Stolls has written in her a way that you cannot help but feel for her. Rory is 45 and also single. But in Rory's case, he came from Ireland and has lived all over the United States. He has had almost every job from data entry to strumming keys as a musician. He has vices, addictions, and a heart so big, you cannot help but love him. Unlike Bess, he has felt love in his life. He has felt it at least 8 times, with his 8 wives. He is compassionate, but with a great fault. He acts on what his heart feels, and whether the outcome is positive or negative, he owns up to it. And when Rory meets Bess, he wants to make her the ninth wife. To me, this book just wasn't just about the tale of the wives, or even just about Bess and Rory. To me, this story was about the love and relationships between husband and wife, lovers, friends, family. Stolls encompasses the different levels of love between two people. She tells the stories of Rory's wives and the positives and negatives about each type of love. She tells the story of Bess, her lack of love and how she witnesses the downside of what love can do, whether it be her parents, her grandparents, or her dear friends. Stolls writes about love and these relationships in such a way that you can't help but picture yourself in one of those scenarios. At first, I couldn't stand behind the principle of nine wives. I couldn't understand how I could grow to like a character that has gone through so much and has done so much to different women. But I am a victim of judging too early. Stolls, through Bess and Rory, has made me realize how powerful love can be. It can break you down into the depths of darkness, and it can also bring you alive in such a way that you feel you are unstoppable. The Ninth Wife is a fantastic read. The writing style of Amy Stolls makes this story easy to relate and the characters lovable. I would suggest this to anyone who has ever felt or wanted to feel love.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 2005 DC folklorist Bess Gray is having a birthday party at her apartment. One of the attendees is fiddler Rory McMillan who thinks of his first wife he married as a teen in Ireland; they traveled to Boston to live. When he and Bess meet, they are attracted to each other. Bess' former boyfriend Sonny arrives with his pregnant girlfriend Gaia. Rory leaves without saying goodbye. Rory thinks about his second marriage. He did not want to go home to Dublin and she needed a man as a front. They never slept together as she was a lesbian who divorced him just after she graduated from college. He regrets he hurt his third wife who he met in a Toledo church parking lot over a fender bender. Rory invites Bess to watch him play the fiddle. She accepts the date. Bess enjoys the performance by Rory and his partner Sean. They go to the National Cathedral where he kisses her. The pair begins a relationship, but he knows he owes her the truth about his eight marriages. This is an engaging tale with an intriguing theme that for the most part is brilliantly executed as readers meet the merry wives of Rory. The lead couple is a strong pairing and the support cast enhances the story line except for the second half road show in which Gaia and Bess' neighbor Cricket seem out of place. The elderly spousal abuse subplot brings a serious issue to the plot, but is somewhat muted after a powerful beginning. Still this is a profound look at degrees of togetherness as it is not first, fifth or eighth; it is the last wife that counts. Harriet Klausner
pen21 More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure how this book would live up to the title Ninth Wife. I liked the way the author weaved in the 9 wives into the story. Also Stolls explored the grandparents and Bess's family tree along with a road trip to take her grandparents to their new home. Stolls just kept building on the information we knew dropping little surprises along the way.
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This book was very good. I couldnt put it down. The writer kept me engaged and guessing the entire book. My only complaint is that the book did end abruptly. I thought it would have been nice had it had an epilogue.
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jen114 More than 1 year ago
I like it. It's an interesting read. This is the first book I have read by this author, and I look forward to reading more.
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luvbooks331 More than 1 year ago
I thought at first that I wasn't going to like this book but very soon I was hooked. I had to find out more about Rory and his history. I loved it and couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
interesting story,you want to see how it turns out
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Loved it
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Sara Odajima More than 1 year ago
I was not sure what to expect with this book, but it was really good. I was intrigued, and each chapter brought more to the story. I enjoyed it.
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