Book Review | “The Promise”

18342363Review by Leah Cooper

Ann Weisbarger is one of my favorite authors, and I am pleased to report that she will be speaking at Jefferson Carnegie Library on Tuesday, June 18 at 6 P.M. I even braved a rain storm and a flat tire to hear her speak at an out-of-town book club.

The Promise, the first book of hers I read, is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the 1900 hurricane in Galveston. Catherine Wainwright is a young pianist who wants with all her heart to be a musician, realizing she cares little about marriage or motherhood.

Society in 1900 is very unforgiving of improper relationships, though, and Catherine realizes she can no longer live in fashionable Dayton, Ohio. Heartbroken and facing destitution, she begins to correspond with a childhood admirer, recently widowed Oscar Williams.

In a letter, she agrees to marry him, then boards a train to travel 1,000 miles to Galveston Island. Catherine is unprepared for life on the remote farm and doesn’t know how to relate to Andre, Oscar’s young son who is grieving for his mother.

The story alternates between the first-person accounts of Catherine and those of Nan Ogden, Oscar’s housekeeper. Nan promised Oscar’s first wife on her deathbed that she would take care of Andre.

She also has feelings for Oscar, which she knows she must hide. Catherine bristles around Nan, finding her unrefined, patronizing and cutting. But with no household skills, Catherine needs Nan. Two-thirds into the book, storm warnings begin to appear.

Many times I have heard or read references to the 1900 Galveston hurricane, considered the worst natural disaster of the twentieth century in the United States. Reading The Promise immersed me in the overwhelming devastation the storm inflicted on the island.

Weisbarger does not hold back; the reader feels the struggles of the characters in the book. I won’t give away anything, but know that this is not a fairy tale where everything comes out sunshine and roses in the end.

I can’t provide a better review than that of Robert Morgan, author of The Road from Gap Creek, “A thrilling and heartbreaking novel. Told in alternating voices, with perfect pitch, it brings the past alive with a vivid sense of place and time. This is a story of the enduring bonds between people, of shame and redemption, of promises kept. No one has ever dramatized a cataclysmic storm better, the fury and the aftermath. It is a novel of the struggle, the work, and the power of love.”

Stop by Jefferson Carnegie Library to check out this book.


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