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The Promised World – Book Review

PromisedWorldShe used to think that without her brother she would simply cease to exist. But now, as she heard her lungs gasping for air and felt the ache of her knees against the hardwood floor, she knew her body was stubborn; it would insist on remaining alive, even if her life no longer made sense to her. Even if she couldn’t comprehend the world in which she’d found herself. It was frankly impossible, and yet this was her reality now: a world without Billy. – from The Promised World, page 7 –

He never complained that he had to live his life under the shadow of always knowing what Lila could not bear to know. And whenever her pain got too bad, he would remind her of the second part of the plot, an elaborate story of the happy adulthood that he’d constructed out of thin air and taught her to believe in, too. The promised world; their lives, redeemed. – from The Promised World, page 75 –

Lila is a Princeton graduate, a college professor of English Literature and married to the gentle and understanding Patrick. But when Lila’s twin brother Billy threatens a school full of children with an unloaded gun and is killed through “suicide by cop,” Lila’s world unravels. Unable to remember any of her early childhood years and completely dependent on Billy’s interpretation of her past, Lila finds herself floating without an anchor when Billy dies. What really happened to her? What is merely a story… a contrived plot of her life? The Promised World centers around this psychological mystery. Lila must recreate her childhood and unearth both her and Billy’s secrets  in order to not only move forward, but to save her eight year old nephew from a doomed future.

Told from multiple viewpoints, the novel is an examination of memory and the power of storytelling as the characters move through grief, trauma, and betrayal. Tucker’s strength is in her characters who are both deeply flawed and painfully human. Lila is a woman who has essentially been living life like a character in a novel – reality and fantasy have become inexplicably linked. Her struggle to sort out the discrepancies of her life and hold together her marriage with Patrick is raw and believable. Billy’s wife, Ashley, and his children (William and Pearl) have also been caught up in Billy’s world of carefully constructed half-truths. Tucker easily slips into the voice of William – a child who adores his father and only wants to please him, even if it means doing the unthinkable. Although Billy is revealed only through the voices of those around him, he is perhaps the most compelling character – complex, brilliant, and deeply disturbed.

The Promised World is an unnerving novel which examines psychological survival from trauma and loss and questions how well anyone really knows another person. Tucker’s style is conversational and easy to read. The narrative is non-linear and the use of multiple viewpoints works in creating tension – the answers to Billy and Lila’s past are revealed slowly, as if in a dream. I found myself unable to put the book down by the midway point. I wanted to know the truth and I was fascinated with the psychological aspects of the story. Although dark and heartbreaking, The Promised World ultimately delivers a hopeful message.

Readers who have suffered an abusive relationship or been shattered by the suicide of a loved one may find The Promised World difficult to read. But for those who enjoy engrossing character driven novels which examine the human psyche in the aftermath of trauma, Tucker’s book is an intriguing read.



  1. September 22, 2009    

    While it does sound like a difficult subject matter, I must confess that I absolutely love character driven novels that involve a psychological study. This sounds like a book that I would really enjoy – and I am now anxious to read your interview with this author!

  2. September 22, 2009    

    It does sound like quite a book. Thanks for the great review!

  3. September 22, 2009    

    I won this one recently and I’m anxious to read it, even though I know it will be disturbing.

  4. September 22, 2009    

    Wow, this sounds incredible. I love books that are about how the families of the would-be killers are affected. Have you read We Need to talk about Kevin ? It’s so powerful.

  5. September 22, 2009    

    Sounds very intense but worth it! Great review!

  6. September 23, 2009    

    The more reviews I read for this one, the more I want to read it! It just sounds so interesting. I think I’ll put it on my library hold list. 🙂

  7. September 24, 2009    

    I am glad to see that you enjoyed this one too, Wendy. You’ve written a wonderful review. It almost makes me want to pick up the book and read it again right now. 🙂

  8. September 25, 2009    

    When I first heard about this I wasn’t really sure, but your review is making me reconsider! Off to add it to the wish list!

  9. September 26, 2009    

    Molly: Given your description of the books you love, I think this one would captivate you. Sorry – no interview 🙂 But the author did provide a guest post!

    Chad: You’re welcome!

    Kathy: I’ll look forward to seeing what you think of it after you’ve read it.

    Ceri: I have I Need To Talk About Kevin on my TBR stack – and I have heard either people love that book or hate it (because of the subject matter). I think I’ll be in the “love” category!

    Amy Reads: Thanks!

    Heather: I think you’ll be glad you read it. After I posted my review I went around and read other reviews on blogs and LT – they were running 90% positive.

    WendyCat: *laughs* Thanks!

    Kailana: Glad I tempted you 🙂 Hope you’ll let me know how you liked it!

  10. September 28, 2009    

    Wendy, wow. Excellent review. I love when the tension is mounting in a book and I just can’t put it down. This one sounds really engrossing.

    Interesting that Ceri above mentioned We Need to Talk About Kevin- another psychological thriller. That was an amazing (dark, disturbing) book. I hope you read/review that one so we can ‘discuss’.

    Thanks so much for the time you put into reading and reviewing THe Promised World. It is much appreciated.

  11. October 4, 2009    

    Lisa: Thanks! The tension in this one was so good! I really need to get We Need to Talk About Kevin read…it has been on my TBR shelf far too long. I have heard so many mixed things about it.

    It is no problem putting the time in to read such great books…I don’t think I have ever been disappointed by a book that I’ve gotten through TLC! You guys ROCK!

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