Buck isn’t necessarily a poetic writer in the classical sense, but the best moments in her prose contain what the above quote captures. By repeating the word “and” in the way she does, readers get a sense of the tired feet, the hungry stomach, and the unrelenting heat. She does not over describe either, but rather uses poignant moments as the one above that can mnemonically hook into readers’ minds. In addition, having a sense of history can also aid in memory, for there are moments where Buck speaks of the bombings at Chongqing and the migration of citizens from east to west. Yet the historical context is not such that a reader will end up lost within the Burmese jungle.
The Promise is a fairly fast read as far as literary novels go, and the narrative becomes richer as the book goes on. It is disappointing because whenever I go to a book store, I always only seem to find The Good Earth, and perhaps one other of her novels (if I am lucky) while many of her other books are difficult finds. Buck won the Nobel Prize for literature and apparently has written eighty-five books (according to her bio at the beginning of the novel). Why her other works are difficult to come by, I do not know. Perhaps she, like many other great writers before her, is just in a down phase, and when there is some centennial celebration of something (maybe her death?) her books will be re-released and there will be a rebirth of her career. Not since Willa Cather can I recall such a strong novelist not bound by her sex or ethnicity. There have been some others since, but it is refreshing to see a wide range of subject matter being tackled and also that neither writer felt the need to box herself in.
Despite the dearth of Buck’s novels lining the rows of bookshelves in bookstores, many of her works can be purchased on Amazon—so they are still available, though not popular purchases. Hopefully with time, (and more reviews of her work I plan to write) more attention will be given to this great and deserving literary master.