In our day and age the problems Grace encounters might seem conventional and the way she deals with them completely normal. In 1947 her attempts to be independent and raise her children as a single mother would have been frowned upon. In that era the wife was still very much considered to be property of said man. Women were still coming into their own and starting to throw off the chains of their servitude.
Grace has no idea that her marriage isn’t like every other marriage. Gene is her first sexual experience and her first encounter with what she believes to be love.
When Gene disappears in the midst of a terrible fire she gets the opportunity to discover new emotions and real love. She also experiences friendship with both genders and the kindness of strangers.
Faced with a life of abuse, neglect and anger she has to make a choice to either stay and be silent or refuse to endure a life lived on the terms of a bully.
Kudos to Shreve for adding historical facts and for the authentic feel of the story. Grace was and is every woman, regardless of the era.