Promise is set in 1936 in Tupelo, Mississippi on the day of, and the days following, a devastating tornado. Following the parallel stories of two families, seemingly separated by race, class and geography, we discover their deep connections. In this story told from alternating points of view, we experience, in grinding detail, the fear and panic accompanying a terrifying natural disaster.
Dovey, a local washwoman, is desperate to find her family in the aftermath of the tornado. Her granddaughter, Dreama, finally turns up, and together they search for Promise, Dreama’s baby, a child resulting from a violent rape. Dovey despises the young man responsible. Son, the son of prominent judge, Mort McNabb, has gone without punishment for years. There is no justice in Tupelo for African Americans.
Jo McNabb provides the other voice in the story. She is Son’s younger sister, but she has none of his ugly nature. Instead, she bravely cares for her mother after her mother’s new baby was blown right out of her arms. Jo also searches for her father and discovers a surprising turn of events.
The characters are well-drawn, and the plot creates a great deal of tension. However, the ongoing descriptions, while beautifully rendered, bog down the progress of the story midway through the book. However, do not give up. The overall impact of the book is not so much about the devastation of a tornado, but the ravages of racism in our country. Though set during the Great Depression, this book is quite relevant to the world of Charlottesville, Black Lives Matter, Ferguson and NFL protests. In elegant prose, Gwin illustrates the vast schism in our culture; more importantly, she shows us our shared humanity. That is hopeful.