The Promise is a collection of short stories by Tony Birch. This is the second book by this talented Australian writer that I’ve read in the past two months. You can read my review of his Ghost River here.
The protagonists in the twelve stories in this collection are men and boys for whom life offers or has offered a promise. The promises are not always realised. The photo on the cover says it all. A bridge abruptly severed symbolises the disjunction between a promise and its delivery.
Tony Birch uses a quotation from the New Testament as an epitaph:
There will be no more mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed. Revelation, 21:4
There are stories of broken marriages and broken promises and narrow escapes. Some of the stories clearly label the protagonist as Aboriginal. ‘Distance’ tells a sad story about a teacher who finds his family on an Aboriginal reserve in a country town where Aboriginal folk are despised. The title story, ‘The Promise,’ is about an Aboriginal alcoholic whose wife has left him. He has promised her he will not drink again.
The settings are wide-ranging from city to suburbia. From country towns to the outback.
The stories are written in first person so that the reader has an intimate view of the action . Reading ‘Sticky Fingers,’ who could not be sorry for (and amused by) a team of youthful marbles-players whose high hopes of a win are dashed by the last player on the opposing team? Believing themselves close to winning, they are tricked, and beaten by a girl.
Throughout The Promise, the language is uncomplicated. This is unmistakably Australian writing from a skilled crafts-person.Tony Birch is able to create deeply moving scenarios without resorting to pathos or sentimentality. The reader feels the pain of each of the story tellers. At the same time, he or she is led to experience a glimmer of hope for the future.
The Promise is a rich reading experience. I am left with much to think about.
Tony Birch. The Promise. St Lucia: Queensland University Press, 2014