Romance is not my genre, generally speaking. But for every generalization, there is an exception, and Ann Weisgarber’s The Promise is an exceptional novel. Set primarily in Galveston, Texas in 1900, it’s beautifully voiced. Other reviewers mentioned Willa Cather, and I could see some of that. My first thought was the similarity in tone to Helen Hooven Santmeyer’s epic And Ladies of the Club, one of my favorites.
Right about now I am required to tell you that I received this luscious hardcover novel absolutely free via the Goodreads.com first reads program. I hate doing that, because it implies that this is the source of my high rating and compliments. But if you check my first reads record (and I recently changed my privacy settings so that anyone can do that), you will see that I don’t routinely give high ratings or praise. If the cover letter asks me to write a review “if you like what you read here”, then I only review the book if my review will be a good one. If I am asked to review it no matter what, then that’s what I do. One of my ratings (over which the local newspaper here raved) was two stars, and another was so badly edited that I left the stars blank and documented the fact that the book needed extensive editing before it should be sold.
This touching story of a woman who is “ruined” and forced to leave town and marry down (an old expression and my own, not the writer’s) touched me in a way I can’t entirely understand. I generally carry a strong working class bias, and yet the first person story of this formerly pampered musician, a member of the intelligentsia during a time when such a thing was a rare luxury for women, really grabbed me from the start. Maybe it’s because it was so easy to imagine being that person. A different time period, a different set of rules, and hey…who knows?
The characters were all so tangible, so vivid, that I felt I could step into the pages and have a conversation with them. This is really strong writing.
So even if you aren’t one for romances generally, you might give this a try. The awards mentioned in the author’s blurb were what led me to take the chance. It’s what, back in the day, would have been called a three-hanky–story, because by the time you were finished sobbing, you’d have gone through three handkerchiefs. For you? Keep a box of facial tissues at the ready, and settle down by the fire, because once you’re more than halfway in, you’ll be there for the duration.(