THE PROMISED WORLD by Lisa Tucker

You know it’s bad when you only have 15 pages left of a book, and you can’t bring yourself to read them.


The Promised World by Lisa Tucker started out promising enough: a tale of family dysfunction focusing on twin brother/sister, Billy and Lila, who have an abnormally close relationship and a lot of unanswered questions about their past. When Billy kills himself – suicide by police – Lila tries to figure out why, and starts unraveling a lot of mysteries about their childhood and what she remembers. Meanwhile, Billy’s three children each deal with their own issues in the aftermath of their father’s death, and his estranged wife struggles to keep custody of her children.

My issues with this book:

  • Inconsistency. It seemed like Tucker just made up things as she went along, without a consistent narrative that tied all the facts together. Houses appear out of nowhere that are fully furnished, even though nobody has lived in them for years. Memories crop up, then fade away, and are then replaced by conflicting memories. Evidence points to certain events that are never addressed or brought up again. I realize that Lila’s past was shadowy and confusing, but sometimes she has total clarity about events and other times she is missing decades of her past.
  • Plot developments that are supposed to be pivotal, but aren’t. Billy supposedly shot his stepfather, but that is never really explored. Lila fell down the stairs and had a head injury, but that’s also not really addressed until the last few pages, and then only with the briefest of treatments.
  • Overblown insinuations of incest and abuse. Did Lila and Billy have an inappropriate relationship? Maybe… it’s hinted at but never really explored, and no one can agree on the answer. Did their stepfather abuse them? Maybe… but again, never resolved.
  • Unrealistically crazy and/or evil characters. Lila and Billy’s mom is pure evil, and Billy himself is highly unstable and paranoid. And Lila did her own stint in a mental institution. Yet we are supposed to follow these characters and relate to their perspective…?

The Promised World clearly wasn’t for me. Maybe Tucker was trying to explore the nature of memory and who we trust in creating our own narratives? But there were holes all over the place that made it much more confusing than powerful. The only sane people in the book – Billy and Lila’s spouses – were the only characters I could really follow and enjoy. The rest were just a mishmash of inconsistent or crazy.

I listened to The Promised World mostly on audio, until the last chapter, and I invested a lot of hours into it. (The audio is decent, through the narrator was a little too precise and prim – almost like she was reading a children’s book – which was inconsistent with the overall mood of her material.) By the end, I was annoyed with the book, bordering on angry, and really wishing I hadn’t spent my time on it. I have too little time to read these days to spend it on books that are this unsatisfying. Ultimately this one wasn’t worth it.

Reviews on Goodreads, etc. are pretty good, so maybe it’s me. Just not my kind of book.

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3 Comments

  • October 27, 2012 - 6:09 am | Permalink

    Sorry this was a stinker for you.

  • November 1, 2012 - 8:46 pm | Permalink

    This review (which I realize I’m reading rather belatedly) reminds me so much of how I felt about the same author’s novel, “Once Upon a Day.” Just a sloppily layering-on of details, plot lines, and scenes-meant-to-shock….with no attention to narrative responsibility. I’ll never read another by her.

    • gayle
      November 2, 2012 - 11:39 pm | Permalink

      I have another of her books but now I think I am going to take a pass on reading it!

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