Filled with guilt over the argument they’d had on the night of his brother’s death, Dan is determined to fill the hole left by Patrick’s absence. He helps his sister-in-law Zoe with childcare and chores, drops by his parents’ home more often, and takes over the management of Patrick’s finances and rental properties. Doing so reveals a secret that Patrick’s kept from his loved ones for years, and Dan is torn. How can he best honour his brother’s legacy and care for the family he left behind, while still pursuing his own chance at happiness?
The Promise is a moving, heartwarming story of love, loss, and, most of all, family. Patrick’s secret isn’t all that shocking, and as events unfold, nor is the eventual resolution to Dan’s dilemma. But the ways in which Dan and Zoe work through their grief, and figure out how to move on with their lives, is very relatable. There’s a tendency, when someone dies, to remember only the good stuff about them. But part of moving on means coming to terms with the full complexity of their human-ness, warts and shortcomings and all, and in Dan and Zoe’s journeys, Lucy Diamond explores that part of grief in beautiful, textured, and multilayered ways.
I love how this plays out even in the smallest details. There’s Zoe’s search for a sign from Patrick — a butterfly or a car honking at a particular moment. At one point, even she has to laugh at her own absurdity in wondering if a dog walking by may be that sign. The sign doesn’t appear until the last few pages, but when it does, it’s a gut-punch of a moment, made all the more impactful by the narrative distance with which it was written. More prosaically, there’s a photograph of Patrick and Dan on their parents’ mantle, which Dan has always hated. He and his mother chat about it at a couple of points in the novel, and each chat reveals a new facet in the relationship between the brothers. It’s a lovely demonstration of how we can still learn about our loved ones, and our relationships with them, even after they’re gone.
Patrick’s secret, and the way Dan chooses to deal with it, form the crux of the conflict in the novel, and while some of the events in the fallout are pretty dramatic, Lucy Diamond chooses to handle this part of the narrative in a quiet, almost reflective, way. We feel Dan’s confusion and fear as he tries to deal with the fallout without hurting anyone, and we feel Zoe’s pain as she is forced to come to terms with some uncomfortable truths. The consequences of Patrick’s actions leave long-lasting marks on the lives of several characters, but the way Diamond presents it, we can see how each character deals with the impact on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately, all these characters are just doing the best they can, both for themselves and their loved ones, and Diamond does a good job in taking us deep into their lives.
Thank you to Publishers Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.