Texas author visits book club
By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer
Ann Weisgarber, of Sugarland and Galveston, got an idea for a novel while writing articles for The Islander, a Galveston magazine. "I did stories about people who had unusual jobs," she said. While interviewing a couple who operated a small grocery store, she learned about how primitive the west end, or the down island, side of Galveston was.
"They often didn't have electricity even in the 60s and had to haul ice from the city," she said.
"So I began to wonder what that area was like during the 1900 storm," said Weisgarber.
The result of that wonder was Weisgarber's second novel, The Promise, which takes place over a short span of less than two weeks prior to and just after the hurricane that took an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 lives on the island.
Weisgarber visited Bandera last week to talk about her book with the Thursday Library Book Club. "We had read and enjoyed her first novel, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, a couple of years ago," said club member Carol Wolf. "And we were excited to hear that she had published a second book."
Once Weisgarber settled on the idea of writing about the rural areas of turn-of-the-century Galveston, she started researching, spending lots of hours at Galveston's Rosenberg Library and Museum. She searched the archives for any bits of information she could find about the island's cattle ranchers, dairy farmers and fishermen who made down island their home.
"Everything that had been published previously about the storm was all about the city," she said. "I thought it was an injustice that the people on the west end had been forgotten."
Sometimes it was just a sentence in a newspaper story, a census report, or letters that provided a clue. More bits of information came from interviews with BOIs, people who were Born On Island and who had ancestors who had experienced the storm. By the time she had finished the work, she "felt like the book belonged to a lot of people." They had shared details about the island's Ridge, the Beach Road, Galveston as a booming business center and tourist draw, and about the many people who died after the storm from rattlesnake bites and blood poisoning.
The Promise is told by the distinct voices of two women, Catherine Wainwright and Nan Ogden. When the upper class Catherine gets caught in a scandal involving a married man in Ohio, she reaches out in desperation to a childhood acquaintance, Oscar Williams, a recently widowed dairy farmer on Galveston Island with a young son, Andre. The more practical and less educated Nan, a friend of Oscar's dead wife, had promised her friend that she would take care of Andre.
Oscar sees a chance to give his son a better education and proposes marriage to Catherine.
Catherine's arrival on the island stirs up volatile emotions from Nan and Andre, and when she decides to keep her scandal a secret from Oscar, Catherine lays the foundation for an unhappy marriage.
The storm of nature quickly overwhelms the storms of emotions and each character draws deeply upon their own strengths to survive.
Unable to find a publisher in the US, Weisgarber has had both of her novels published in the United Kingdom. Her first, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, has been optioned for a movie.
The Promise is shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, is a finalist for the Ohioana Book Award in Fiction and for the Spur Award Best Historical Fiction.
As we move into hurricane season, The Promise would be an exciting companion read while the winds blow.
Visit Weisgarber's website at www.annweisgarber.com to learn more about this skilled writer.
The Thursday Library Book Club meets the first Thursday of the month at the Bandera library at 10 am. The members choose 11 books for each year from the group's suggestions. Discussion leaders are selected for each book. The club has been active since 2004. For more information about the club, contact Carol Wolf at 210-413-3660.