Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon
Published July 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley
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.
Leaving Lucy Pear came to my attention through an email from the publisher. I'd never heard of it but I was preapproved for it through Netgalley and it was different than the other things I've been reading lately so I decided to take a chance. I'm glad I did.
Book clubs will find that Leaving Lucy Pear makes a good selection. There is a lot going on in it and so much to talk about. Solomon explores homosexuality, infidelity, sexual and physical abuse, bigotry and intolerance, workers vs. bosses, prohibition and illegal alcohol, unrequited love, mental illness, truth, family dynamics and, most importantly, what it means to be a mother.
You'll think I didn't like the book when I tell you that, while all of those themes in one book make for a great book club choice, the book might have been stronger and more emotionally compelling if Solomon had pared back a little.
Solomon has created some great characters here and some really wonderful storylines. Bea and Emma are, as they should be, strong, interesting and complicated characters and I enjoyed "watching" them interact with each other and grow. I would actually have liked to know Lucy better; she sometimes disappeared in the story. But then, the story isn't necessarily hers.
The arc of the story, from the moment Bea sneaks out of the house to leave her infant daughter out in the pear orchard to the point when Bea, Emma, and Lucy come together played out in a way I really enjoyed. There is no happily-ever-after here, which is not to say there is not some happiness found or that the ending isn't just as it should be (which is kinda sad, to be honest).
I've gotten kind of bad about picking up unknown books in the past few years. I mean, I've got all of these great bloggers telling me about so many books that I want to read that I rarely pick up something I know nothing about. Leaving Lucy Pear is a good reminder that there's a lot to be said for taking chances.