PROMISES by Catherine Gaskin


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After an unusually absorbing first section, this latest soap/saga by the author of Family Affairs and Summer of the Spanish Woman settles down into a standard, fairly juicy romance/misery stew--1914-1929, England/America/Paris. The engaging prologue, however, takes place in 1900: rich mill-owner Black Jack Pollock, a grieving Yorkshire widower with two small children, impulsively adopts an abandoned baby (dubbed ""Lally""), then defies convention by bedding and wedding the family governess--who dies giving birth to beautiful, brain-damaged Alice. So, come 1914, Black Jack has four very different children coming of age: son Jon, a handsome young soldier; daughter Margaret, a beautiful debutante, selfish and pleasure-loving; Alice, adoringly protected by all (Lally especially); and adopted Lally herself, bright but plumply plain, and secretly in love with Jon--who marries dashing deb Sandy. During the war, however, Sandy (revealed as a tramp) will conveniently die, leaving Jon free to discover his love for Lally--who has become trim and beauteous through the rigors of WW I nursing. Meanwhile, Margaret, though courted by suave American warprofiteer Brock Weymouth (like Lally, a foundling), will opt for blue-blooded Robert Grenfell. And after the war, then, there'll be two family weddings, with offspring and quasi-happiness. . . till Margaret's drunken driving gets both Jon and Robert killed in a car crash. So Margaret turns for marriage #2 to the ever-reappearing Brock (who nobly takes the car-crash blame). . . while Lally, occasionally tormented by the surfacings of her real, low-class mother, turns to a clothes-store career in tandem with cockney wartime-chum Susie. But, in the Twenties, the transatlantic focus comes to center most on angelic sister Alice--who's perhaps not so harmless in her retardation as everyone thinks. (Was she responsible for the drowning death of Lally's young son?) And eventually, after Alice's wayward behavior leads to Brook's trial for murder, the two outsiders--Lally and Brock--will come together at last. (Margaret finally self-destructs.) Unevenly paced, with a surfeit of WW I nursing--but comfy, crisp, and tastefully racy here and there: reliable fare for the sizable Gaskin following.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday