Rant, Review

Review: Promised Land by Rose Lerner (2018)

Heat Factor: It’s more angsty than hot 

Character Chemistry: I’m not sure I bought the resolution of past wrongs

Plot: Wife fakes death to escape marriage, runs into husband at Yorktown

Overall: It was interesting and well composed, but I did not buy the rekindled relationship 

I was expecting this to be a story of a second chance romance that did not previously involve marriage. I was mistaken. Rachel and Nathan were married when they were very young, and it was not a good thing. In fact, it was so bad that Rachel faked her own death. Sounds like a promising beginning for this story. Nathan also loved Rachel, but Rachel only married him because her mother was dying. Again, we’re hitting all of the points that make me think this is going to go well. (/sarcasm)

Rachel believes so strongly in the ideals of the Revolution that she pretends to be a man and becomes a corporal in the Continental Army. Years ago, Nathan had sent Rachel and his mother to Philadelphia when the British occupied New York. Rachel 1) didn’t want to leave New York and 2) does NOT like her mother-in-law. To be honest, I probably also would not be a huge fan of a MIL who didn’t think I was good enough for her son. So Rachel fakes her death to live her dream. Nathan, left behind and thinking the wife he loved is dead, mourns deeply and starts making some changes in his life as a result. Namely, because Rachel believed so ardently in the rightness of the Revolution, he becomes a spy for the Continental Army. 

Here we come to the point when Rachel and Nathan meet again at Yorktown. Rachel is living her best life, pretending to be a man, not keeping Kosher, dreaming of the time after the war when she can speak about how she, a Jew and a woman, fought in the Revolution. Contributed. Had value. Nathan, by contrast, is on a mission. His slightly nervous, placating disposition makes him a pretty good spy, so he wanders into the Continental Army to do his good work, and meets his dead wife entirely by accident. She thinks he’s a loyalist spy and immediately has him clapped up. 

There are almost two stories here. On the one hand, as Rachel and Nathan are becoming reacquainted and she’s learning to trust him again, there’s a sense that he’s more willing to see her as she is, to be with her as she is, than anyone else. There’s a point when her sex is under suspicion and she has to defend her position as a soldier that illustrates what would be a truly lovely, emotional story between our protagonists: 

Her comrades had only wanted to protect her. She believed that. But Nathan wanted to protect her, too, and he hadn’t tried to stop her.

She had actually been hurt by that. Doesn’t he believe we owe each other anything? Doesn’t he think of himself as my husband anymore? Colonel Hamilton had said it without thinking–if your husband permits it. Everyone–even Rachel, deep down, a little–believed it was Nathan’s place to make this decision for her. Everyone but Nathan. 

This occurs late in the story, after some healing has taken place. You might think this healing makes the story work. Here’s the thing, though–Rachel is horrible to Nathan. Yes, Nathan passively ignored his rude mother instead of defending his wife during their short marriage, but his personality is what it is. His values are what they are. He can’t have a personality transplant, even if his wife’s “death” makes him reprioritize. At no point does Rachel respect Nathan for himself. Referring back to their marriage, she says to Nathan that she was intentionally and actively mean to and derisive of him so he would stop trying to be friendly with her. She judges him for being an observant Jew because she feels like a bad Jew for not wanting to follow all the rules. Even as he is cheerfully imprisoned, she derides him in her head. His positivity during his imprisonment is cause for her scorn. He is permitted to leave his cell to perform some work with other soldiers, and she scoffs at him for doing the easiest part of the job of preparing cartridges. SHE FAKED HER DEATH TO GET AWAY FROM HIM. How, exactly, am I supposed to buy that this is a relationship that can or should work at all?

This says it all: 

She wanted to push him against a wall and make him repeat back to her what she had said to him, to explain it to her, to–To prove that he was different now. As darkness gathered and the British began another go at bombardment, Rachel made herself face it: to prove that it would be safe to go back to him. 

Rachel doesn’t want Nathan the way he is. She wants something, someone else, and trying to smash a truly loving, accepting relationship into a marriage that has already ended is a terrible idea. 

This novella was originally published as part of a trio of novellas titled Hamilton’s Battalion, so each story loosely links back to a narrative arc in which Eliza Hamilton is reaching out to as many people as she can to gather stories or experiences of her husband (Alexander Hamilton, in case you’ve been living under a rock since the meteoric rise of Lin-Manuel Miranda). We’ll discuss Hamilton’s Battalion in a later post.

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