by Ann Weisgarber
In 1900 a devastating hurricane hit Galveston Island, Texas, killing around 6,000 people. This shattering event (the worst U.S. natural disaster in the 20th century) provides the powerful setting for Ann Weisgarber’s second novel.
Catherine Wainwright a young, cultured, pianist from Dayton, Ohio finds herself the talk of the city when she embarks on an ill-judged love affair with an older, married man. Catherine’s intolerable situation forces her to seek out a solution to her impending destitution – spurred on by her own, pitiless mother. In desperation she writes to a childhood friend and admirer, Oscar Williams. During the correspondence Catherine discovers Oscar is a widower with a five year old boy, Andre. Oscar is flattered by the reconnection and after several exchanges he proposes to Catherine. What option has she but to accept?
Oscar lives in Galveston, Texas where he runs an isolated dairy farm. The clapboard house is built on stilts to keep it safe from floodwater, rattlesnakes inhabit the outhouse and the surrounding swamps are mosquito infested. It’s here that Catherine arrives, a fish out of water, shocked by the rudimentary living arrangements and the sweltering, cloying heat.
Nan Ogden is Oscar’s housekeeper. A native of the island, Nan is a brusque girl nonplussed by Catherine who is completely undomesticated and reserved. Nan made a promise to Bernadette, Oscar’s dead wife, that she would look out for Andre, and the arrival of this exotic creature who talks to the boy “like a schoolteacher” strengthens her resolve. She would protect Andre – and Oscar too. When the great storm hits with catastrophic force all three will be forced to show their strength of character.
THE PROMISE is a terrific second novel from Ann Weisgarber. In her clear no-nonsense prose she tells a terrific story of love lost and found, secrets, jealousy and rivalry with the build-up, and subsequent arrival of, the great storm providing a spectacular backdrop.
Published by Mantle – 306pp.
See some photographs of Galveston before and after the storm at Ann Weisgarber’s website.
Read our interview with Ann Weisgarber.