The Reckless Oath We Made by Bryn Greenwood
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: August 20, 2019
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Literary
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Zee’s life has never been easy (to begin with, her full name is Zhorzha), but now it’s coming completely unraveled. She left her last worthless boyfriend after she crashed his motorcycle and broke her hip, she traffics marijuana because she lost her job after the accident, and she’s living with her sister LaReigne and her young son, Marcus. Her mother is morbidly obese and a hoarder who hasn’t left their house in years. And now her sister, who volunteers at a nearby prison, has been taken hostage by two escapees. Zee has no money and soon, no place to live. To top it all off, the only person who wants to help her is an autistic man named Gentry. Who believes he is a knight and her champion. When Zee decides to try and find her sister, Gentry is at her side in Bryn Greenwood’s new novel, The Reckless Oath We Made.
In her debut, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Greenwood made the bold choice to put a relationship between a grown man and a young girl at the center of the novel. In The Reckless Oath We Made, she does something similar because, as a knight, Gentry only speaks in Old English. Much of what he says is difficult to understand for the reader. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to stick with the novel because thees, thous, and mayest are not words that roll off the tongue. Deciphering their meaning alters the novel’s flow, so it’s a calculated choice on Greenwood’s part. At the very least, a risky one.
Greenwood lets Reckless Oath flow through all of the characters, giving each their turn to speak. And yes, initially, Gentry’s chapters were difficult to read, but then they clicked because it was no different than reading a character written with an accent. I came to love Greenwood’s choice even more, because the formality of Gentry’s speech so clearly delineated him as a man of honor and not just someone who didn’t fit in. More importantly, though he lives in a world of the past, he sees this world, and Zee, clearly
She wore her anger like a cloak of fire that burned none but herself.
Such a beautiful description of anger. And it’s accurate. Zee is a woman with no resource but herself. Despite Gentry’s heartfelt belief that he is destined to protect her, he has no idea what they face. Zee has never known her father because he died in prison while serving a life sentence for killing a bank guard. Her family, such as it is, is tied to white supremacists as are the prisoners who escaped. It becomes clear, by the federal marshals storming her mother’s house that it’s likely her sister is not a victim, but a participant in the escape. Zee grapples with all of this while trying to keep a job and provide support for her little nephew. Every door she approaches slams in her face. Her state of mind is such that “getting murdered would solve a lot of my problems.”
With this much action it would be easy for Reckless Oath to turn into a potboiler thriller, but Greenwood is so careful with her subject and her characters that the novel stays the course of insightful reading. We hear not only from Zee and Gentry, but also from Gentry’s adoptive mother and his friends, from Marcus and Zee’s mother. They all serve to blast the stereotypes of conditions and environment as well as shining a spotlight on how those stereotypes create chains that bind people. Just as Zee can’t escape her upbringing neither can Gentry, even as a grown man
I had come to them a child whose native tongue was a scream. I learnt to speak. I earned proof of my learning, and took up a trade. I was accountable to myself…
With each choice of narrative and style Greenwood drove The Reckless Oath We Made further into my heart. Once again, she written a novel that will not be right for everyone, but for those who are willing to work, just a little bit, this is a mighty epic of a gentle modern-day knight, the lady he loves, and the travails they face. It’s not a fairy tale. There’s too much pain, no sweetly happy ending, and the world they both occupy is uncomfortably real. But throughout the toughness Greenwood maintains a tenderness, a yearning that reaches off the page. It makes for a novel that crosses genres and is deeply rewarding.