Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

Title: The Promise
Author: Ann Weisgarber

Genre: Fiction (Historical / early 20th Century / Galveston / Texas / Natural Disaster / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Skyhorse Publishing (4/1/2014)
Source: Publicist

Rating: Loved! A top ten read of 2014.
Did I finish?: Oh yes.
One-sentence summary: Two women from different lives are bound together through a man and his child in 1900 Galveston
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Actually, I'm kind of meh about it.

I'm reminded of...: Angela Davis-Gardner, Erika Mailman, Julie K. Rose

First line: There wasn't nothing good about funerals.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy! (Or borrow, but you want to read this one.)

Why did I get this book?: I love the premise and I adored Weisgarber's debut novel.

Review: In 2011 I read Weisgarber's fantastic debut, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree.  It was the kind of historical novel I adored -- unique setting and era, unbelievable heroine, fabulous historical detail.  It got tons of love (lots of wonderful prize nominations), and most recently, was praised at a writing class I took -- all for good reason.

Weisgarber's newest surpasses my love for Rachel Dupree. I'm in that flail-y, can't speak coherently kind of place with this review, so I'll just say this: read this book, stat!

Set in Galveston, Texas in 1900, ahead of the devastating hurricane, the novel follows two women loosely bound together by Oscar, a dairy farmer, and his five year-old son, Andre. Nan Ogden is a neighbor, a hearty woman asked by Andre's mother, on her deathbed, to care for him.  Devoted to the boy, and half in love with Oscar, Nan's unprepared and angry when he suddenly remarries.

Catherine Wainwright is from a monied Ohio family, college educated and gifted at piano. But she falls from grace (and society) when her affair with her crippled cousin's husband comes to light, and renews her acquaintance with Oscar, whom she knew when they were children.  Recently widowed, he proposes after a few letters, and she accepts with resignation that grows when she arrives in Galveston.

Despite the seeming love triangle set up, this isn't a novel about who wants who.  Instead, it's a book about family connections, secrets, obligations and the assumptions we make; Weisgarber describes an emotional storm ahead of the very real hurricane we know is coming.  

The descriptions of place are just stunning.  I know nothing about 1900s Galveston, and Weisgarber paints a world hot, steamy, bustling, and lonely.  (It turns out Galveston the city is also on Galveston the island; Catherine and I both assumed she'd be living in the city, but it turned out she was going to live out on the island.)  Catherine as an outsider means Weisgarber can load up on details about what Galveston was like, but it never feels awkward, heavy, for infodump-y.

The writing generally is just lovely, too: Nan and Catherine have two distinctive voices, their own views and prejudices, their own keen observations and their own blindnesses. But there's poetry and lovely evocation of place and mood through the book.
It was a sorrowful time; there wasn't no other way to put it. What the storm did to us was cruel, and I won't never forget it. Or forgive it. The storm did what it wanted and then blew itself out, leaving us to try to put things right. But some things can't be put right. (p290)
A must read for historical fiction fans, as well as anyone who a love for Texas.  This is a wonderfully emotional novel, too, in the vein of women's contemporary fiction, and I think those who aren't sure they like hist fic might want to consider this one for its exploration of love and family.  A top ten read for 2014, hands down.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Promise to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and Canadian readers only, ends 5/9.  For another entry, see my interview with Ann Weisgarber.

19 comments:

  1. I read her other book and enjoyed it but this is the first I am hearing of this new one.

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    1. I know -- I was surprised (but pleased!) to hear she had a new novel out. It was released in the UK first and nominated for the Walter Scott Prize for Hist Fic, along with some other big names -- I'm v happy for her as this one is delish!

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  2. Oh wow...this sounds so good! Thanks for bringing it to our attention, this is going on the wishlist for sure!

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    1. I had the chance to meet the author at the Historical Novel Society conference last year, and she promised then to get me this book when out. I hadn't forgotten, but she hadn't -- which I'm so grateful for!

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  3. I, too, adored Rachel DuPree and have somehow not started this yet. Must read soon!

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    1. YES, do -- I'd love to know what you thought if -- I think this one would be a win for you, too!

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  4. I've heard great things about this book and hope to meet up with the author next month when I'm in TX. SO excited to read it!

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    1. Eee, hope you get to meet her, too -- we met at the HNS conference in St. Pete's and it was lovely!

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  5. So glad to see others giving this one the love it deserves. I'll be blogging on the Tour on April 25th with another giveaway at Tutu's Two Cents. It's definitely going to be one of the best of the year.

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    1. It's a really love-worthy book -- glad folks will have another chance to win a copy!

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  6. I met Ann, a fellow Texan at an Historical Novel Conference, and she is the most generous, welcoming person - and an excellent writer!! She kindly offered me her valuable insights into my writing and I am forever indebted to her. The very best ones seem to have the biggest hearts.

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    1. She was a delight to meet -- which I always love. Authors who are awesome make me so happy! Unsurprised, but pleased, to hear she's giving to other writers.

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  7. This sounds really good, and if you like it I think I will too. Thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. Ooh, I hope you get this one -- really delicious read. There's a lot of wife/helpmeet stuff going on in this that would be great discussion fodder!

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  8. Audra, I'm deeply touched by this terrific review and by the generous comments from your followers who are serious readers and bloggers. (Judith, hello! How are you in San Antonio?) The business of writing can be tough but the community of readers holds us all together. Thank you.

    I still laugh when I think about meeting you in Florida. I think you sent your husband a text that you got your first author squeal. That came from me. So much for being a professional!

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  9. I quite liked the sound of the story anyway, but when you said it wasn't so much a love triangle, that just sounds so good. Not that love triangles aren't but there have been so many of them recently. I don't know anything about the hurricane so that interests me, definitely.

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  10. I love historical fiction. This is for me. :) GREAT review.

    THANKS for sharing this book.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved May Edition. I am in the list as #46 and 47.

    My book entries are below.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My First Book Entry

    My Second Book Entry

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