That Beth Wiseman could write a story that I could adamantly dislike and yet not get out of my head is a mark of her talent.
In any genre, I want to read about one basic type of lead character: someone likeable with a fatal flaw who must learn to overcome this big issue in whatever way possible.
Mallory doesn’t fit either of those qualifications. Firstly, I did not like her, and that for a few simple reasons. Mallory isn’t completely honest. She isn’t honest with herself or with her boyfriend about her faith – or lack thereof. She doesn’t understand it, and she really tries to sweep it under the rug and not deal with it. This is a believable issue, and would make a great story in itself, except this was only a subplot to the real one. It’s never fully developed. Mallory has some sort of history with her family and a tenuous relationship with them, and while part of it is explained, much of it is not. Fleshing this out more would have made many of her actions more realistic, because finally, Mallory is described as smart, only she isn’t. She’s naïve, innocent, crazy, an easy mark. She may be intelligent book-wise, but she isn’t wise – she doesn’t listen to sage advice, do research, or try to determine possible consequences when faced with a major decision. She has the kind of false security that most of us Americans have, only we’re never called on it. Being called to the carpet on this issue is what moves the story along – but it only made me angry with her for her continued blindness, and if not for this review, I would have put the book down.
While the pull between Islam and Christianity is a driving force in this story, I didn’t find Mallory’s faith journey credible. She based a major life decision on a desire and a Bible verse shared by her Islamic friend – and Mallory didn’t understand the scripture. Neither did she try to find out (and it didn’t exactly fit). She researched Islam, she befriended Islam, she read the Qur’an, and she took her ties to her Islamic friends more seriously than those of her Christian ones; yet in a crisis, suddenly she had a Christian revelation. Could God work this way? Totally. Did it feel real? Not to me. Having a searching Mallory explore both faiths would have felt more realistic to me, as well as possibly answering questions for believing and non-believing readers on their own faith journeys.
Both Mallory and her boyfriend and her Islamic boss and his girlfriend had serious physical relationships. While the details were not spelled out in the book, this undermined the Christian’s credibility and was not redeemed in the story. It put the devout Islam, the devout Christian, and the two lukewarm people all on the same playing field, and there was no redemption for this issue within the story. I have no problem reading about physical relationships, if handled well; it’s rampant within our culture and needs to be addressed, however, in was not dealt with in The Promise. It left me with the feeling that there was nothing wrong, and that’s certainly not a message I agree with.
Sexual relationships before marriage were not my only cultural issue in The Promise. A marital arrangement, legal only, with a quick divorce following is an action that a character intends to take. Since this character is not a person of faith – and does have humanistic, helpful intentions – it is oddly logical; however, the few faithful people in the story raise no objections to the morality of the divorce or discuss the sanctity of marriage. Both are taken lightly in American culture, but I see no reason for Christians to do the same. Again, had a character raised concerns, not only to the location of the marriage, but to the morality of the divorce, it would have added another layer and important depth to the story.
The Promise sheds light on an American-Islamic problem: immigration by devious methods. Wiseman shares that Islamic (Pakistani) men are trying to trick American women into marrying them to pave the path for their visas to be issued to gain passage onto American soil. This is something I know nothing about, and so if it is the big issue that Wiseman implies, then it most certainly must become known. Books can be great vehicles for social change, or at least social awareness. I don’t know what Wiseman’s motivation was in writing this story: if it was to wake up Americans to an international problem, then it succeeds. The immigration issue was well developed, and marriage laws in Pakistan were described, but I think that going deeper into Sharia law would have made the danger more explosive and the plight of Pakistani women more clear.
I have read many of Wiseman’s books. I loved the first few Amish ones that I read, and the most recent contemporary fiction story did a fabulous job of making me connect to the main character (something I missed in this book). Like all of Wiseman’s work, The Promise is well written with smooth transitions, a great vocabulary, and clear descriptions. This is the first that I have adamantly disliked, and yet I can see purpose in it. The Promise is quite provocative about all of these issues: marriage laws, the sanctity of marriage, abuse within marriage, how to handle money, interfaith friendships, and organ donation, just to name a few. There is much food for thought within these pages, and so I can see a book club having much to discuss after reading this story.
So – will you read it?