Well, it started very intriguingly with “Promise” but I felt very troubled after finishing this one…
Pick up this book, if you want to read about Galveston and its history while learning about the struggles in a close community. I would recommend her first novel, too because is an excellent read and very informative, too.
Ann Weisgarber uses her research knowledge well in her fiction works with intriguing characters and she creates a great depth for a sense of place inside her books. I will be reading more of her written words in the future. She makes a reader think deeply and want to know more after shutting the cover of her novels.
By the way, this cover on this paperback version matches mine and I love it. It conveys the true image of the story once Catherine arrives in Galveston. Galveston is also a main character once the story is set on this island with the dairy farm and the close sea water in the view from the veranda of Oscar’s house on stilts situated on a small rise.
Weisgarber’s first novel was beautifully crafted and I could not put it down. The historical characters in it were very well formed and I couldn’t forget them. They were convincing and that is something I missed this time around with some of these characters along with the situations in which they interacted and how they reacted. The results of some of the scenes were troubling for me. Oscar’s loyalty is real and Nan’s feelings towards him are also very strong. Catherine reveals her true feelings, too towards Oscar in her final actions.
The two narrators did not work for me in this story because I loved Catherine’s voice and Nan’s voice grated on my nerves! She is very negative and a real killjoy to this story. Nan Ogden becomes the real main character, not Catherine once Mrs. Williams is introduced into this saga of characters in Galveston. Nan is in the Prologue, and she returns as a narrator that doesn’t bring anything to this but sorrow, negative opinions, and jealous thoughts. Her personality is that of a villain.
The characters do make plenty of promises to reflect back to the title. However, the promise to take care of Andre is not totally revealed at the end along with other loose ends where the reader must draw their own conclusions about what really happened to some of these characters.
Catherine is new to Texas and she arrives on the island trying to bury all the hurt her life has brought to her back in Ohio where the community turned up their noses at her because she let down her guard and loved the wrong man. A man tied to another woman that was not fulfilling his desires the way Catherine could for him. A marriage doomed because of some uncontrollable forces bearing down on it. Catherine feels trapped, alone, and she decides to leave the area by going off to marry a man from her past that she has not seen for years.
Catherine becomes Andre’s saving grace and he does appreciate her actions and her direction. Andre is starting to care about her and her presence in his young life. She is a beautiful woman that does what she has to do to protect this small boy during a battering hurricane and in my mind, she is the hero of this story. Andre is comforted by her singing, her actions, her protection from the tragic events around them as they seek shelter at a higher level together. She provides this boy with nourishment, even though, she has no experience in this area or much knowledge about raising children. Catherine does what comes natural to her in this time of need for Andre. She puts him first as a mother would do and she guides him through this tragic event even when she tells him to go the Nan’s homestead and leave her behind to wait for Oscar to return. She is always thinking about other people and their needs, not her own.
Oscar is a dear man that truly loves Catherine and he puts everything aside for her but his farm commitments and the community he lives in are still what makes him tick and what is most important to him. His passion for his animals is beautiful. Social taboos do not stop him from loving this woman and being very understanding with her needs. She is starting anew with him and I think he is doing the same in this setting in Texas with his second wife. He values her input and her company in this unforgiving setting.
Nan has a lot of her past still in her thinking, such as troubles with close relationships and bad experiences involving men in her life. However, she doesn’t let them go. She never tries to move past them. Nan keeps them on her sleeve. Her personality is altered by these bothersome experiences with men she has loved and lost. Nan will not bend or change. I think she is smart in the areas of dealing with her geographic surroundings because of her experience in this area of the country. She warns Catherine about the snakes in the beginning of the story. What still bothers me is why didn’t Nan remove the poison from Catherine’s hand and arm when she is caring for her after the incident in the pasture? Did Nan purposely leave it as is? During the conclusion of this fiction story, the reader is brought back to Nan’s voice and point of view. She is cleaning and thinking about what to do about Andre. I feel she wants Andre for herself because of the “Promise” she made in the beginning to his mother. I think this is why the book ended the way it did because Nan is the focal character and she gets what she wants in the end!
Music is a symbol in this story often along with setting the time period in the 1900’s. Classical songs are featured with Catherine and Nan both being musicians. I felt this was the only thing they had in common.
Nature, animals, and pelicans in the area are referenced. Child-rearing in the 1900’s is also a key element. Nan’s approach and Catherine’s are very different. I felt Catherine was a better mother and had a tender side that I admired with a wonderful teaching method.
Oscar is a man that conveys trust, honor and being committed always to his community of people. He has strong values and lives by them daily in the story. Catherine tells Andre about his father’s childhood and his life back in Ohio. She instills this family history in Andre.
I did not expect the story to end like this and I felt empty after finishing it. It brought about a void to me. When the storm grows strong and the air turns bad with the humming and shattering noise, it brings death to mind. The salt in the air and everywhere it is not wanted because of the rising sea waters, and Catherine takes Andre to the attic stairs, I felt her pain and her confusion during this scene. Nan was strong but in that scene, Catherine was also very fearless at times by comforting Andre when she didn’t feel quite sure what to do. She never let him know how truly afraid she was inside her mind and that was what a true parent does for a child in a situation like this and she wasn’t a female that had carried a child inside her body. At least, it is not said that she ever did. I thought maybe she was expecting an infant and I was hoping she could tell her husband this news when he came back. But, that never happened.
I did not feel Catherine longing to return to Ohio. She thought of her mother and even thought about writing her mother. The social rules of the 1900’s stopped her from returning to that former life and writing her mother in Dayton. Nan’s inability to read is visited through her questioning the information in the letters she encounters while she is cleaning up after the storm. The differences between the two women and their voices are very opposite. Nan is an unpolished woman and a no-nonsense type. Catherine is a very polished female in her appearance and her manners. The isolated landscape on the dairy farm is not what Catherine is accustomed to but I think she tries very hard to make the most of it. I felt she had courage in her heart to try to fit in while also keeping some of herself the same because Oscar admired her for the woman she was when he knew her in Dayton.
The history in the novel is valuable and intriguing to read about now. The setting in Texas is well done with the details about the surroundings where Oscar farms and cares for his community.