Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: The Promise

Summary: From the author of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers and longlisted for the Orange Prize.

1900. Young pianist Catherine Wainwright flees the fashionable town of Dayton, Ohio in the wake of a terrible scandal. Heartbroken and facing destitution, she finds herself striking up correspondence with a childhood admirer, the recently widowed Oscar Williams. In desperation she agrees to marry him, but when Catherine travels to Oscar's farm on Galveston Island, Texas—a thousand miles from home—she finds she is little prepared for the life that awaits her. The island is remote, the weather sweltering, and Oscar's little boy Andre is grieving hard for his lost mother. And though Oscar tries to please his new wife, the secrets of the past sit uncomfortably between them. Meanwhile for Nan Ogden, Oscar’s housekeeper, Catherine’s sudden arrival has come as a great shock. For not only did she promise Oscar’s first wife that she would be the one to take care of little Andre, but she has feelings for Oscar which she is struggling to suppress. And when the worst storm in a generation descends, the women will find themselves tested as never before. -- Skyhorse Publishing

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up THE PROMISE by Ann Weisgarber. I knew the author's last novel had been long listed for the Orange Prize and even shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers, so I knew the writing would be strong, but I wasn't sure the premise actually grabbed me. Shame on me! This book was both beautifully written and it captured my attention from the get-go.

THE PROMISE takes place in the early 1900s in Galveston, Texas. Catherine Wainwright is a successful pianist living in Ohio but she is being scorned because she was caught in a scandal. She feels as if she has no where to turn so she begins writing letters to Oscar Williams, a man who admired her when they were younger. Oscar is a recent widow with a young son, and although he has a full-time housekeeper, he is looking for a wife. When Oscar proposes to Catherine, she decides to move to Galveston and begin a new life.

Catherine is shocked by what she finds when she arrives in Texas. Galveston is very different from Dayton, Ohio; and she has to adjust to not only the humidity and high temperatures, but the remoteness of the island and the simplicity of her new home. She also has to deal with Nan, Oscar's housekeeper who has feelings for Oscar, and Andre, Oscar's six year old son who is still reeling from the loss of his mother.

Catherine learns a great deal about her new family and herself through the trials she faces; however, none is greater than the devastating hurricane that strikes Galveston.

I was most definitely impressed with THE PROMISE, and I enjoyed pretty much everything about this novel. I loved how Ms. Weisgarber brought this time period and setting to life, and the book even read as if it had been written during the early 1900s. I especially liked how well developed Catherine and Nan's characters were, and I thought the author captured their voices perfectly. Last, but certainly not least, I loved how the book gradually built up to the storm and how these two women demonstrated so much strength and love.

If I had to pick one thing that really stood out to me about THE PROMISE, it would have to be the character of Catherine. At the beginning of the story, she was pretty much an outcast with little chance for acceptance in her social circles. I wasn't quite sure I approved of her reaching out to Oscar (although she had little choice), but I admit that I was curious to see how this privileged woman would survive living as a farmer's wife.

And that's when the novel really captured my interest -- when Catherine arrived at her new home. She was keeping a lot of secrets from her husband and really was a fish out of water. She had no idea how to tend house or cook; and she really was clueless about being a mother and a wife. I appreciated how Catherine made an effort to adapt, and I found her relationships with Oscar and Andre to be very sweet.

Even though I was confident that Ms. Weisgarber would write, THE PROMISE definitely reinforced that for me. She wove a great story and created some memorable characters, but it was her prose that really made this book extra-special. She somehow managed to make me think this book was written over 100 years ago, and I loved how she brought Galveston to life!

THE PROMISE would make an excellent book club pick. There is a reading guide with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include promises, love, marriage, secrets, motherhood, friendship, forgiveness, and redemption.

I highly recommend THE PROMISE to fans of historical fiction as well as novels about the strength of women!

Thanks to Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, LLC for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

Even though I'm not really a historical fiction fan, this does sound good to me.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I love the cover! This one sounds very good! Hope I get a chance to read it soon!