Book Review: Promises to Keep: A Novel (Strivers Row)
Book Reviewed by Thumper
Your beloved son is murdered and your family slowly begins falling apart. How
do you hold it all together, your family, yourself and find the murderer of your son? This question is the crux of Gloria Mallette's third novel, Promises to Keep. If you read my review of her previous novel, Shades of Jade, you know Mallette sent me over the top with that book. Promises to Keep is not in the same vein as Shades of Jade, but it does share the same fast-paced timing, good plot, and solidly written story. I simply enjoyed it!
In Promises to Keep, son Troy is murdered when his car alarm is activated while he and his 5-year-old daughter are at the cinema watching the movie, The Lion King. In the aftermath of Troy's death, secrets and buried hurts come to light. Relationships once believed to be stable are tested as Troy's parents, Nola and ron, and his brother, Vann, vow to find the person(s) responsible for Troy's death.
Allow me to get the negative out of the way so I can end this review on a few good notes. The beginning of the book felt claustrophobic. Mallette started by explaining EVERYTHING. I felt as if I was doing a connect-the-dots puzzle with a thousand dots. Every gesture and movement, no matter how small and subtle, does not need to be explained or described. I like details, but I also like room to interject my imagination onto the story. But about a third way through the book, the claustrophobia vanished, as if someone flipped a switch and I was quickly able to get knee deep into the story.
It took me a while to warm up to the character of the mother, Nola. She didn't really come alive to me until a third of the way through the book. Men, as is generally accepted, have a hard time expressing their emotions, so Ron's attempts to stifle his exploding grief were expected. Mallette's portrayal of Ron's and Vann's grief and mourning was accurate and heart wrenching. I wanted to see Nola fall completely apart, literally. I wanted to see the type of expressive mourning that I can identify with. I've seen it, felt it, and even done it a time or two myself. I steeled myself for this big emotional scene but it did not happen. She did not do any screaming, falling out on the floor or any other histrionics and I would associate with a grieving mother. Instead, I get this quiet mourning: tears falling accompanied by a few childhood memories of Troy. I felt a little let down.
But I soon realized that Nola was quietly coming undone. In Nola, Mallette wrote a smart, finely executed portrait of grief. She was growing numb and depressed as her still waters started to run even deeper. Nola was standing on the edge of the abyss about to fall. The type of mourning Nola was experiencing was final, making healing impossible. True, I didn't get to shed the tears I had anticipated, but the family's mourning, as vividly and skillfully communicated by Mallette, struck me with more force and intensity than I had anticipated.
It was good reading Promises to Keep. After reading many non-fiction books
with heavy subject matter for the last few months, I was ready for the change of pace, something light---not to be confused or implied as poorly written. Promises to Keep was full and I completed the book with a good sense of satisfaction. The characters were nicely drawn. I can't argue with the logic, narrative, or direction of the story. Promises to Keep was a soundly constructed story and moved at a nice steady clip. I relished it and anxiously look forward to Mallette's next novel.