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Rebekah Anderson
The Grand Promise

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Published on June 1, 2022, the 80th anniversary of the Grand Coulee Dam, "The Grand Promise" is a work of literary fiction about the real communities that were impacted by the dam's construction on the Columbia River in the 1930’s during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency. Called “a gripping debut” by best-selling author Jonathan Evison and “an ambitious saga” by Washington state book award winner Peter Mountford, "The Grand Promise" was the #1 fiction bestseller at Small Press Distribution in May/June 2022.
Anderson’s enthralling literary novel addresses the human cost of a Depression-era public works project in Washington. Situated on the Columbia River, the beleaguered town of Kettle Rapids finds itself in a heated debate about a proposed dam that could alleviate regional water problems and put residents back to work. Progress carries a price, though. The Grand Coulee Dam’s construction will flood Kettle Rapids and force citizens to relocate to higher ground. With his livelihood at stake, ferryman Ozzie Price voices public opposition and suffers an attack on his business. His son, Carter, bucks his father and takes a job on the dam’s construction. Carter’s travels and experiences on the crew lead him to an understanding of the town he was so eager to escape.

The first quarter of the novel employs five alternating points of view: Carter, Ozzie, a newspaper reporter, the owner of the construction company, and a widow whose business is not affected by the dam. This provides a rich canvas for exploring the dam’s history and impact. After Carter leaves town, however, the narrative follows him, resulting in a focus on life in the construction camp and less conflict and character development. When Carter ventures home for a dedication ceremony with President Roosevelt, the other perspectives return, and the pacing picks up, building to a surprise revelation of who sabotaged Ozzie’s ferry.

Anderson deftly brings to life the texture and drift of days and minds in the era, as well as the challenges such an ambitious project entails, how it shaped and upended lives, and the drama not just of the dam and displacement but of survival in the Great Depression. Though the conflicts experienced by Carter resolve in ways that may strike some readers as convenient, the storytelling has grit under its fingernails, a sense of life as it was lived, and also a compelling sense of history’s sweep.

Takeaway: A sweeping historical novel of the building and impact of the Grand Coulee Dam.

Great for fans of: Peter Donahue, Timothy Egan’s The Winemaker’s Daughter.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A