an older African-American woman that works as a laundress in town, mostly for white families. One of these families is the McNabbs, whose teenage daughter Jo serves as the other primary character in Promise. Her father Mort works as a judge and her mother Alice is a schoolteacher, and are considered important members of Tupelo society. The event that links these characters is one of tragedy and pain. The eldest McNabb child, a boy named Son, raped Dovey’s granddaughter, Dreama, which led to a pregnancy and the eventual birth of her great grandson Promise.
In the aftermath of the tornado, both of these families are scattered. Dovey is flung from her house and wakes up in a pond, a terrible foot injury hampering her; this leaves her disoriented, as she is unsure where either her husband Virgil or her grandchildren ended up after the devastation. Jo suffers a horrific head injury and must deal with the death of her brother Son and the crippling of her mother, along with the fact that her younger brother Tommy, just a toddler, was sucked from the house and is missing. Thus, both Dovey and Jo must embark on a painful and at times terrifying journey in order to stay alive and reunite their remaining loved ones.
The most striking aspect of Gwin’s novel is that it displays both the fragility and strength of what humans have created in this world. In the blink of an eye, the tornado demolishes homes and businesses, leaving people wandering aimlessly in search of any stability they can find. The disaster also tests the bonds that people have formed in relationships with each other. Jo eventually finds a baby who she believes is Tommy, but is almost immediately abandoned by the other members of her family in one form or another. Her father consistently disappears for mysterious reasons and her mother sinks deeper within herself after losing her leg.
Dovey, along with searching for Virgil, Dreama, and Promise, must constantly overcome the rank racial discrimination that is entrenched in the small Mississippi town. However, there are instances where this harsh social system begins to fray a bit as well: Dovey, as she struggles to simply make it through the days, no longer feels obligated to kowtow to others simply because they are white. We also see outsiders from around the country, members of the Depression era work programs, helping everyone, no matter the color of their skin. In the end, this serves as a microcosm of the beauty and power of this novel. Amidst the devastation brought about by nature, we witness human beings displaying strength they never believed they had, which leads to small moments of tenderness that brings new life to a seemingly ruined landscape.
Promise by Minrose Gwin is currently available for checkout from Starkville Public Library.