Here's a repost from 2013 that's relevant again with a few tweaks and updates. Congratulations to Ann Weisgarber, a fellow Texas author whose second novel is out in the U.S. this month with a gorgeous new cover! (Skyhorse Publishing / April 2014)
I wrote this review last year when The Promise published in the U.K. I've since met Ann in person. She is lovely, kind, and gracious -- and she can write up a storm. Literally, in this case.
If you're in the DFW area, join Ann at her talk and signing at Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Park, Dallas, April 17, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. Some of the What Women Write crew is sure to be in attendance!
I read Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel Dupree in 2012, and was blown away by this intense, moving story. It was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers and long-listed for the Orange Prize in the U.K., and was chosen for the ABA's Indie Next List and Barnes & Noble's Discover program when it released here in the States. I devoured it and couldn't wait to read something new from her.
Well, one of the perks of having a second English language publisher for Calling Me Home (Pan Macmillan in the U.K.) is getting occasional advance review copies from the U.K. My editor, Sophie Orme, discovered I had an interest in novels by Weisgarber, one of her authors and a fellow Texas writer, and she put a proof copy of The Promise in the mail that winter. (It published in the U.K. in April 2013.)
I read it over the holidays in whatever moments I could steal away from all the hullaballoo, and once again was startled and drawn in completely by this novel—most especially by the voices, exactly as I was with Rachel Dupree, a young African-American pioneer, in the previous novel.
The Promise is the story of Catherine Wainwright, a pianist who flees her Ohio home in disgrace, impulsively accepting the proposal of the man who worshipped her from afar when they were young. Oscar Williams is still rough around the edges, but he's stronger and surer of what he wants than Catherine expected when she agreed to marry him. He lives far away in Galveston, Texas, where he has built a dairy farm on "the ridge" far "down the island."
The Promise is also—and maybe more importantly—the story of Nan Ogden. Nan has been Oscar's housekeeper since his first wife died tragically. Upon Bernadette's death, Nan promised to always watch out for Andre, Bernadette and Oscar's only child. But there's more to her story: Nan harbors secret feelings for Oscar.
The story alternates between the distinct voices of Catherine—refined and stunned by her new life—and Nan—practical, realistic, and completely unable to deny the pull of her promise and her feelings.
It feels like a quiet story at first (intentional, I believe!). With careful and deliberate language and plotting, Weisgarber develops her characters through loaded interactions between Catherine and Oscar, Catherine and Nan, and Nan and Oscar, as well as Catherine's tentative struggle to become a mother to Andre.
But then the story marches toward the historic 1900 Galveston storm, the worst natural disaster in twentieth century American history. By the time I arrived at the second half of the book, through the warning signs and eventual arrival of the hurricane, my heart literally pounded as I read of Oscar's attempts to secure his animals and home and the people for whom he feels responsible. I stopped stealing bits of time and had to demand the few hours I needed to finish reading The Promise and learn what its heart-wrenching conclusion would be.
It's not an easy story to read (again, like The Personal History of Rachel Dupree). If you are easily frightened or like stories that tie up things with a pretty bow, you might not like it. But if you're like me—a reader entranced by realism, even when packaged in tragedy—you'll likely find it nearly impossible to tear yourself away from this story until you've finished, and then it will haunt you for days.
I highly recommend The Promise.
You can find Weisgarber online at annweisgarber.com and on Twitter at @AnnWeisgarber
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advanced copy of the book mentioned above gratis. Regardless, I only recommend books I've read and believe will appeal to our readers. I am making this statement in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”