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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Review: The Promised World by Lisa Tucker

On a beautiful afternoon, while Professor Lila Cole is working in her office, writing a paper about Herman Melville, her beloved twin brother is sitting in the window of a building across from an elementary school with a rifle pointed at the school windows. While Lila works, Bobby, her twin dies. He sought this death; the police called it “suicide by cop”. The weapon he pointed at the school wasn’t even loaded. Now Lila is left to deal try to understand what drove her sensitive, loving and intelligent brother to this action. She finds that her twin, the person she always thought she was the closest to in the entire world, was separated from his wife, and had been charged with child endangerment.

She also discovers that Bobby, unbeknownst to her, had been in contact with their mother, the same woman that the twins had always claimed was dead. Lila has no memories of her younger years, Bobby had always been the one who kept the memories alive for her, and all she has left of her childhood is the stories Bobbie told her. As she delves further into her own past, in an effort to understand Bobby, she discovers her whole life is built on a fiction, and Bobby was the author of the story.

It’s very hard to sum up Lisa Tucker’s new novel, The Promised World. It’s a complex book, nuanced and empathetic. It’s a book that shows that every story can have more than one perspective, and that what we view through the prism of our own experiences, is often viewed much differently by others. What we think of as intimacy may really just be the veneer of intimacy; a thin hard shell that we use to protect ourselves from getting to close. What we think of as betrayal may be deeper and harsher than even we comprehended, or it may merely be the act of someone who loves us and wants to spare us. And mostly, that what we think is innocence, may really be ignorance. The novel shows us all that mistakes can be made, with the best of intentions, which are difficult and painful to rectify. But it also shows that these solutions, albeit painful, ultimately bring people closer together, and show us all what loyalty and love can do.

As usual Lisa Tucker didn’t disappoint me with this novel. As with The Song Reader, her characters are finely drawn, with multi-faceted personalities. Tucker is able to show us these complex characters in a very life-like way, not as plot driven people, but as real people. The antagonist in the story, Lila’s mother, is the quintessential “Mommy Dearest” and makes Joan Crawford’s mother look positively saint-like. Lila’s husband, Patrick, has almost as much emotional baggage as Lila, and they’re perfect for each other because they have so studiously ignore anything painful in their pasts for years. Bobby’s estranged wife, who starts out as a shallow, narrow-minded trashy type woman, is shown from all perspectives, and her behavior becomes more human and more easily understood and defined. In short, her characters are human, they’re you, and me, and people we know, and that is what makes the story work so well. The Promised World is a really lovely novel, one I’ll think about for quite some time.

My rating:


Laughing Stars said...

This sounds intriguing. Another title for my TBR list.

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I've never read her though I have an ARC of this one on my shelf. I started it about a month ago but it didn't pull me in.
Your review has convinced me that I should give it another try.

Natalie W said...

Another one added to my list of must reads! Great review.
Natalie :0)

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a book that would make you think. I know my sister and I remember some things from our childhood very differently.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a beautiful, moving and complex read... one of my favorite kinds! :) I love coming to the realization that, along with the characters, we've been seeing things differently -- or wrong -- all along. It's "the rug being pulled out from underneath you" feeling, and it's awesome! Great review -- I have a feeling I'll be picking this one up someday!