Summary and book reviews of The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

The Promise

By Ann Weisgarber

The Promise
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2014,
    320 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Judi Sauerbrey

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Book Summary

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.

Excerpt
The Promise

The pavilion was next to St. Mary's, it being a place for the orphans to play out of the sun. It was just on the other side of the sand hills, and the surf was loud here. I sat on a stool by myself in the cleared-off place where Biff and Camp usually played. Wagons and buggies, the horses hitched to them, were parked by the inland side of the pavilion. I fixed my brown skirt, laying it so my ankles didn't show overly much. I had on my Sunday best, my shirtwaist wasn't fancy like Mrs Williams', but it was what I had.

I settled the fiddle on my shoulder. Folks milled about, the men going off toward the hills to pass the whiskey bottle while the women calmed fussy babies and put away the food that was still on the long tables. Boys had lit the kerosene lamps on the tables, getting ready for dark. Sweat rolled down my sides even though the sun was sinking fast, the pavilion didn't have walls, and the breeze stirred the air. I had never played...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the prologue, Nan makes a promise to Bernadette. What are other examples of promises made throughout the novel?

  2. Catherine broke a social taboo by having an affair with a married man. If she had lived in the year 2014 rather than in 1900, how might she be treated?

  3. Catherine is viewed as the outsider by her neighbors in rural Galveston. What could she have done to make the adjustment easier? What could Oscar have done to help her? Nan?

  4. Texas has long been a place where people go to escape their pasts and to start anew. Was Oscar able to break free from his past? Was Catherine?

  5. Nan is also haunted by the past. Discuss the turning point(s) when she realizes she is ready to look to the future.

  6. What is Andre's ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Promise is a gripping, tautly woven story of love, loss, pain and struggle. It is a fascinating hodgepodge of churning emotions and grace (or lack of it) under pressure. It leads readers to wonder if in the wake of nature's supreme power and devastation, can any of the characters ever again be what they were.   (Reviewed by Judi Sauerbrey).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Warm and winning.

Library Journal

Excellent use of historical detail and strong character development mark this second novel by Weisgarber, whose 2010 debut, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, was long-listed for the Orange Prize, and it should attract wide readership.

Author Blurb Carol Rifka Brunt, New York Times bestselling author of Tell The Wolves I'm Home
Ann Weisgarber's pitch-perfect characters will break your heart and keep you guessing right to the very end.

Author Blurb Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena
In this superb novel, Ann Weisgarber has created voices so convincing it is as if the dead themselves have arisen to tell their story.

Author Blurb Alexi Zentner, author of Touch and The Lobster Kings
Ann Weisgarber's The Promise is set against the backdrop of the worst natural disaster of the 20th century in the U.S., but the weather is no match for [this] story of two women's love for the same man.

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Hurricane No-Name

The Galveston hurricane of September 8, 1900, is still regarded as the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, this devastating storm swept away everything in its path, left an estimated 10,000-12,000 dead and thousands more homeless. Residences and businesses were leveled; debris was tossed everywhere, and the smell of death blanketed the entire island.

Galveston Hurricane of 1900 At the time, Galveston was the largest city in Texas, a bustling seaport with a population of 38,000. Located on an island nestled in the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston is a mile from the mainland and approximately sixty miles from what was then the smaller city of Houston. The island itself is less than thirty miles long and only three miles across at its widest point. Then, as now, ...

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