Promise, Texas

Debbie Macomber
1999, Contemporary Romance
MIRA, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 1551665026
Part of a series

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Subtle

"I like to reminisce with people I don't know."

This Stephen Wright line kept running through my head as I read Debbie Macomber's Promise, Texas. If you read and loved Macomber's Heart of Texas series last year, then Promise, Texas will be an enjoyable return to the setting of those books and will act as an extended epilogue to the series. If you haven't read that series, this book will seem like a day spent at a reunion of a perfectly nice family where you don't actually know anyone. By the end of the day, you have an idea of who everyone is and how they are related, but the emotional aspect of the reunion eludes you.

That's not to say that nothing new happens in this book. Macomber introduces new characters. There's Adam, the new sheriff, and Jeannie, the schoolteacher, who stumble painfully into romance after several missteps. There's Annie, wounded physically and emotionally from a bad car accident and her ex-husband's defection, who comes to Promise to heal her wounds and open a bookstore. She makes a marriage of convenience to Lucas, the widowed rancher with two daughters, in one of the more emotionally touching storylines of the book.

There are lots of visits with characters from the previous books as well, with the pregnancies and small children and continuing recognition of deep love that such epilogues require. Macomber smoothly juggles multiple storylines and viewpoints, segueing easily from one to the next. She also uses the new characters' interaction with the old ones to fill in the blanks on the back story of Promise and its nearby ghost town, Bitter End, which was much appreciated by this first-time visitor.

The numerous subplots, while keeping the story moving at a good clip, often allow only brief glimpses of the various characters. This undermines the impact of some of the storylines, particularly the ones involving a family having to make an anguishing decision about their failing mother, and a suspense plot about the return of Richard, the black sheep of previous books, stirring up more trouble in Promise. I would have liked to see either of these developed in more detail, perhaps in their own books.

Debbie Macomber is a master of the bucolic small town setting. Promise is everyone's fantasy of small-town America - a place where everyone knows everyone, with all the good effects and none of the bad that that implies. It's a likable fantasy but at times I found it almost too sweet. Almost nothing bad ever happens and everyone is so darn nice. The mean selfish people all come from outside (generally the vicinity of New York and California) and those who are wounded by the mean selfish people flee to Promise to find healing and new beginnings. I don't think I could spend all my time in a town like Promise, but it's a pleasant place to escape to temporarily.

Despite the weaknesses of this book, I'm interested in reading more of her work. Macomber has made the gentle small town romance her specialty and she is good at what she does; I suspect that her stories that focus more deeply on just a few characters will have greater depth and resonance. Those who have already read her other books, particularly the Heart of Texas series, will relish the chance to revisit your old friends. However, if you haven't read her books before, this book probably isn't the best place to start, unless you too like to reminisce with people you don't know.

-- Colleen McMahon

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