Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Leaving Lucy Pear

A big, heartrending novel about the entangled lives of two women in 1920s New England, both mothers to the same unforgettable girl.

One night in 1917 Beatrice Haven sneaks out of her uncle's house on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, leaves her newborn baby at the foot of a pear tree, and watches as another woman claims the infant as her own. The unwed daughter of wealthy Jewish industrialists and a gifted pianist bound for Radcliffe, Bea plans to leave her shameful secret behind and make a fresh start. Ten years later, Prohibition is in full swing, post-WWI America is in the grips of rampant xenophobia, and Bea's hopes for her future remain unfulfilled. She returns to her uncle’s house, seeking a refuge from her unhappiness. But she discovers far more when the rum-running manager of the local quarry inadvertently reunites her with Emma Murphy, the headstrong Irish Catholic woman who has been raising Bea's abandoned child—now a bright, bold, cross-dressing girl named Lucy Pear, with secrets of her own.

In mesmerizing prose, award-winning author Anna Solomon weaves together an unforgettable group of characters as their lives collide on the New England coast. Set against one of America's most turbulent decades, Leaving Lucy Pear delves into questions of class, freedom, and the meaning of family, establishing Anna Solomon as one of our most captivating storytellers.

My Review

I thought that this book was a fine book. In the beginning I actually did find myself very into the story. I felt sorry for Beatrice. However on the other hand, Emma I did not care for as much. Yeah I could understand why she was having an affair but even that was portrayed as more of convenience then Emma finding someone else that she shared a connection towards. Beatrice on the other hand may have come from wealth but she seemed more down to earth and charming. Thus I gravitated towards her more. The issue I had with this book is that even though I liked Beatrice she was not enough to help me stay engaged with the story. It is funny as other readers mention having problems keeping all of the many characters straight. This was not such a problem for me as I was able to keep them straight. My issue was again that I could not get excited for any of the characters and thus the story was alright. Yet, the last third of the story was good, how it all came together.

The U.S. during Prohibition is often perceived as very glamorous, but this novel exposes some of its dark underbelly, including the period's xenophobia, economic turbulence, and sometimes-violent instability. Can you talk about this?

A large part of what draws me to the 1920's is the divide between its glamorous surface and its harsher reality. Yes, there were a lot of parties with big bands playing, alcohol flowing, and flappers dancing. The Harlem Renaissance was at its height. Modernist painters and writers were pushing the boundaries of their forms. In certain arenas-fashion, for one-there was a loosening of Victorian constraints.

But this was also a decade of virulent bigotry in the U.S. Membership in the Ku Klux Klan skyrocketed. Nativism flourished in the wake of World War One, along with an anti-communist hysteria, and white supremacists managed to stir up a widespread mistrust of immigrants and anyone else whose color or politics did not match their own. In one infamous case, which features in the novel, two Italian American anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were tried, imprisoned for seven years, and finally executed for murder, despite any solid evidence against them. At Harvard during this time-this plays a part in the book, too-a "secret court" was held to expose and expel homosexual students. And all this was going on as temperance fanatics (often in the name of religion) attempted to enforce a law more puritanical than anything even the Puritans might have dreamed up.

So, it was a time of extremes. It's difficult not to perceive a certain resonance with the time we're living in now.

Beyond the main characters, you explore the lives and desires of many secondary characters, from the gay man to whom Bea is married to the rum-running quarry manager Josiah Story. Why create this panorama of characters? Was this a conscious decision you made, or did it emerge as you wrote?

From the beginning, I knew I needed an omniscient narrator to tell this story, but I didn't necessarily know why. In part it was a technical challenge that I wanted to take on, as an artist. I also knew I wanted for my readers to experience that ah-ha! moment when you suddenly see a back-stage character up close, and made three dimensional. Only as I wrote, and rewrote, and scrutinized everything, including the point-of-view, did I come to understand that the impulse toward omniscience fit the story itself, because while Lucy Pear is at the center of the book, the story is really about the impact she has on this large case of characters-some very close to her, and some more removed. For her biological mother, Bea, Lucy is as much an absence as a presence; for others, she is a child they meet glancingly but who nevertheless leaves a mark. She is like a pebble dropped into a pond. Of course the ripples she makes, in the end, return to her. So does the story.  

Interview from the publisher.

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