The Promised World by Lisa Tucker
I want to preface this review by saying that I think one of the most effective ways to pack an emotional wallop in fiction writing is to set up a premise that immediately puts the reader on unsteady ground, either in that they’re not completely sure where they are as the novel opens and what has just happened, or, if there’s an initial event that drives the plot, they don’t know how that’s going to be responded to by the people in the book.
In The Promised World, Lisa Tucker uses the latter method to draw the reader in – as the book starts, a young man named Billy has just committed suicide by police.
He leaves behind a wife, Ashley, and three young children, and just as importantly, a twin sister, Lila, to whom he was extremely, possibly unnaturally close
Lila has a husband, Patrick, and they don’t have any children themselves – Lila is an American literature scholar who has been completely devoted to her career, and Billy’s death hits her like a freight train – she starts to withdraw into herself and her memories of her shared past with Billy and start to lose her grip on sanity and as Patrick, who absolutely adores Lila, tries to help her, he begins to discover that there is a lot she hasn’t told him about her life before she met him – she and Billy have always told people that their parents are dead, for example, but on further investigation Patrick starts to realize that there are some apparently murky reasons why Lila has never really discussed her childhood.
Meanwhile, Ashley copes with Billy’s absence by moving in a new boyfriend only a couple of weeks after his death, which precipitates some drastic action on the part of his two older children, which is what brings the novel to its dramatic climax and forces Lila to confront the memories she’s been running from throughout her adult life.
Lisa Tucker has used a clever device in writing this book – she’s told the story in the third-person, but changes the perspective around between several main characters chapter by chapter.
This method allows her to unfold the plot from multiple perspectives, which is an ideal way, when done well and even-handedly as it is here, to reveal each character’s fears, insecurities and motives for action – and it also expands a key theme of the book, which is personal history as it relates to memory and shared experience
Through this narrative device we learn about the nature of Billy and Ashley’s marriage as Ashley reflects on her past and deals with her children’s grief; we see Lila slowly melt down as she struggles with her mental health and her distrust of her own memory – and we also the effect that the secrets held by some people have on those who love them.
The Promised World is at heart a family drama, but there are elements that are highly suspenseful and quite thriller-like – there’s nothing predictable or formulaic about it, and the story is tied up nicely at the end – I recommend it for a good, absorbing weekend read, and I think it would be especially popular with book clubs.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Published by Simon & Schuster