Book Review: The Promise by Ann Weisgarber
I don’t know much about Galveston Island or Texas. But after reading The Promise by Ann Weisgarber, it’s almost as if I’ve been to Galveston—with the added bonus of being dramatically swept back in time.
The book begins in October 1899. Oscar Williams, a dairy farmer, just lost his wife, Bernadette, and must now care for their 5-year-old son, Andre, with the help of Nan Ogden, a family friend. Oscar is originally from Dayton, Ohio, where he once fell in love with Catherine Wainright, a concert pianist.
The story is told alternately by Nan and Catherine. Nan loves Oscar secretly, while Catherine falls for Oscar slowly. Catherine’s affair with her cousin’s husband causes a scandal and pressures her to leave Dayton. She writes to her old suitor, Oscar, whom she remembers as “charming in an unpolished way.” After a few letters, Oscar asks her to marry him.
Catherine moves to Galveston to be Oscar’s wife. It’s a marriage of convenience for her, though Oscar genuinely cares for her. She is the proverbial fish out of water, who doesn’t know how to cook or keep house or care for Andre.
Nan, the housekeeper at the Williams home, observes Catherine with both envy and incredulity, describing her as “stiff-necked and cold.” But Catherine is a talented pianist. Even Nan is impressed. “It was like nothing I’d heard before,” she concedes, after she finally hears Catherine play the piano. “This music clutched at my heart.”
Nan and Catherine are opposites. Nan is uneducated and uncouth, while Catherine is sophisticated and elegant. Their personalities clash, but Catherine is too cultured to fight with Nan openly. The tension between them simmers, while Oscar is oblivious to it.
Just as Catherine falls for Oscar and their marriage begins to normalize, a hurricane arrives, shaking their lives to the core. I won’t reveal the ending, but I will say unequivocally that this is a great read. If you love historical and literary fiction, read this book.
Ann Weisgarber’s knack for painting a vivid picture of Galveston is evident when she describes little details during the hurricane, such as Catherine sweeping off frogs from the veranda, the snakes whose yellow stripes rippled as they swam in the flood water, and the sleek, shiny rats clinging to pieces of broken boards.
The hurricane in this book is based on a real event. On Sept. 8, 1900, Galveston had a storm that killed over 7,000 people. The strengths of this novel lie in Weisgarber’s realistic portrayal of Galveston and the killer hurricane, in creating sympathetic and believable characters, and in weaving a deeply moving story about them.
Full Disclosure: I only review books I like and the opinions I express here are my own. ARC copy courtesy of Edelweiss and Skyhorse Publishing.