She 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.