Review

The Promised World

by Lisa Tucker

In her previous books, Lisa Tucker has brilliantly explored the
often under-investigated, surprisingly complex relationships
between brothers and sisters. In THE PROMISED WORLD, her fifth
novel, Tucker makes an even more focused foray into this sibling
relationship, using her trademark sensitivity and intensity to
examine one family’s history.

Billy and Lila Cole are twins, and they’ve grown up
sharing the kind of indelible bond that characterizes many twin
relationships. They bond over their shared love of story; Billy
loves writing stories and Lila loves reading them. In Billy and
Lila’s case, however, their link is even more intense out of
necessity, as the two grew up in a cruel, abusive household and
only escaped by depending on each other. Lila has forgotten nearly
everything about the scary, troubling years of her childhood and
adolescence, relying on the limited things Billy has told her about
those times.

As for Billy, he has envisioned his and his sister’s lives
as a grand narrative, a journey from experience to innocence, from
complexity to simplicity. Lila’s life as an adult would seem
to have written the happy ending to Billy’s story --- she has
been married to a loving but uncomplicated man for 11 years and has
a successful career as a literature professor. Billy, though, has
seen his life as a series of disappointments, after he accidentally
impregnated a woman he didn’t love and married her. His and
Ashley’s three children have brought him joy, but his ongoing
attempts to capture the sense of wonder and magic that were missing
from his own childhood are frustrated by the demands of reality and
by Billy’s own depression, anger and paranoia.

When Billy commits suicide, Lila completely falls apart, her
despondency confusing and angering her husband, who starts to
question the appropriateness of the twins’ relationship. When
Billy’s two older children, desperate to avoid moving away
with their mother and her new boyfriend, try to reconnect with
their aunt, Lila must try to reconstruct the traumatic events of
her childhood in the hopes that Pearl and William will be able to
avoid repeating them. Along the way, she begins to question the
version of her life that Billy, a talented storyteller, has
constructed as the truth.

Billy, whose death happens just before the opening of the novel,
remains mostly a mystery, his life, fears and dreams conveyed to
the reader (as they are to the other characters) mostly through the
words and stories he has written. The other characters --- from
Lila to her husband Patrick to Billy’s wife Ashley and his
two children, Pearl and William --- all have the opportunity for
exploration of their own motivations, sadness and
misunderstandings, as the narrative rapidly shifts among a variety
of perspectives. Tucker has shown herself adept at understanding
and narrating the inner lives of children, and her portrayals of
teenage Pearl and eight-year-old William are especially
compelling.

Although THE PROMISED WORLD --- particularly the younger set of
siblings’ desperate story --- has the potential to turn into
melodrama near the end, Tucker generally manages to avoid this
trap, resulting in a novel that contains emotional intensity and
dark undercurrents without being weighed down by them.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011

The Promised World
by Lisa Tucker

  • Publication Date: August 3, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • ISBN-10: 1416575391
  • ISBN-13: 9781416575399