Leaving Lucy Pear

9781101981764_p0_v1_s192x300  Anna Solomon’s sad tale of a baby left in an orchard in Leaving Lucy Pear has a cast of characters whose lives relate to her desertion in a little village in Cape Ann, Massachusetts in 1917.  I had expected only a version of the same theme I had read in other books – The Forgotten Garden, Light on Snow, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and many more, but Solomon’s book holds its own with an underlying struggle of classes driving the classic redemption of the lost child.

Lucy is a minor character as the story begins with her under a pear tree, left by her wealthy teenage mother unwilling to give her up to a strict Jewish orphanage,  and found by a poor Irish family stealing the pears. Solomon evokes admiration for the tough Irish Emma, whose drunk fisherman husband is only home long enough to make her pregnant every year and pity for Bea, the lonely teenager who became pregnant after one assignation with a handsome naval officer.  Solomon does not alternate chapters on the mothers, as expected, but slowly reveals each of the mother’s lives through a series of related characters as well as their past and present, as she skips though the years.

Ten years after leaving her baby in a pear orchard, Bea, has grown into a women’s rights and Prohibition advocate, married to a handsome Boston banker.  She lives in Cape Ann with her aging Uncle Ira in an imposing house near the pear orchard.  Josiah, married into wealth on the island and hoping to gain Bea’s endorsement for mayor, arranges to have Emma, now a mother of nine children with her husband at sea, to care for Ira.  Emma recognizes Bea as the mother of Lucy but Bea does not learn of Lucy’s new home until much later in the story.

Solomon adds political and class story lines as she addresses the parallel lives of the mothers.  The famous trial of Sacco and Vanzetti punctuates the plot in an underlying voice accusing both the wealthy land owners – the outsiders on the Cape – and the poor working class locals. Ira’s brother, who is a successful shoe manufacturer changed his Jewish name to one better suited to the Protestant New England upper class, while his wife,  Bea’s mother, is a pitiful pretender at the country club, overdressing and fracturing her vocabulary as she tries to fit in.   She later becomes the catalyst for a strange twist of fate I did not see coming.

As the characters grow into their lives, Soloman slyly dismisses the reader’s assumptions about their motivations, revealing surprising yet reasonable secrets protecting their characters’ flaws.  Emma’s risks in having an affair with Josiah, Bea’s selfless crusades to protect her fragile ego, Albert’s steadfastness despite his yearning, Lucy’s disguising herself in a boy’s clothing – all eventually merge into revelations.

As I read, I found myself googling Sacco and Vanzetti, their trial, its effects, their execution, and much later vindication by Gov. Michael Dukakis.  I looked for Cape Ann, not as popular as Cape Cod, at the other end of the half moon of land off the coast of Massachusetts.  I wondered about the pears and found orchards still producing, with aged cinnamon pear vinegar and Stone Ruination Ale.

Lucy is almost a minor character in the plot, but has grown into a feisty and capable girl.  The ending brings her full circle to face both mothers.  Hints of her final decision, as she tries to manage the pull of both mothers, may be predictable and hopeful, but no less sad for an independent ten year old.  I’m hoping for a sequel to follow Lucy as she grows into womanhood.

Related Reviews:

 

Mary Alice Monroe – Summer Reads

Tourist destinations with famous beaches often suffer abuse threatening to destroy the very attractions leading outsiders to find them.  Mary Alice Monroe offers beach readers a chance to wile away the hours while alerting them to be aware of their responsibility to their surroundings.

Gregory Cowles Inside the List  for the New York Times introduced me to Monroe’s low country summer novels  and her quest to save the environment.  Making my way through the first paperback – “The Summer Girls” – with saving the dolphins as the target, I enjoyed a quick read with romance and a reminder to be aware – our actions more often affect everyone and everything around us.

9781476758831_p0_v4_s192x300  The Summer Girls, the first book in the Lowcountry Summer Trilogy features three half sisters brought together after years apart by their aging grandmother. Each has her own life issues to resolve: Dora with an autistic son and a pending divorce; Carson, without a job and the possibility of battling alcoholism; Harper, struggling to be free of an overbearing mother. They have the same dead father in common.

The budding romance between Carson and the handsome NOAA biologist as well as Carson’s interaction with her autistic nephew drive Monroe’s real focus on eco-tourism.  She noted in her interview:  “No one comes to my novels to learn about pelicans or turtles…they come for the people, for the emotions.  But that’s how I hook them.”

Although the plot sounds like a soap opera, Monroe connects her characters to realistic problems, and showcases her underlying environmental theme to educate as well as to warn.  I read the paperback in a day, feeling satisfied and informed.  Knowing the author has a catalog of over twenty books, with missions to save the turtles, pelicans, and more, I may seek out another when I need a thoughtful break.

 

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

After meeting this author at a literary conference, I bought her book.  I liked the author’s witty presentation and decided her book would be a good companion for my next long flight.  As I usually do with authors new to me, I wondered if my library had any of her books, and found three.

Unknown-1  If you remember the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors” or the book by Peter Howitt, you will recognize the theme – the consequences of choices.   Reid uses a turning point decision to outline two possibilities for her heroine, Hannah Martin, a displaced Angeleno returning home, confronting her old life and loves.  Chapters alternate between the decision, and the suspense carries both life possibilities into thoughtful dilemmas.

When Hannah meets her old boyfriend after years apart, she recognizes her feelings still offer possibilities with him, but their communication is not as fine-tuned as it once was.  In one scenario, Hannah goes home with him and restarts their love affair; in the other, she goes home with her friends and gets into an almost fatal car accident.  Reid addresses each concurrent storyline with strengths and weaknesses, and keeps the suspense alive, as the reader wonders if the resolution will be the same.  Do small choices have drastic effects on the future? Do decisions matter or are we all fated to come to the same destiny, no matter how we get there?

Reid’s story is a light romance with an appealing twist – a good summer beach read.  The theme of her new book, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, reminds me of The Thirteenth Tale (one of my favorites) about a famous author revealing her secrets as she uses a young woman to write her memoir.  In Reid’s book the woman is a fading movie star – another possibility for a long plane ride.

A Brief Detour into Nonfiction

 

9780374156046_p0_v2_s192x300  Flâneuse

After wandering around New York City with Lillian Boxfish in Kathleen Rooney’s novel, Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse seemed a natural follow-up.  In a series of essays, each targeting a city – Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London, Elkin introduces the concept of the Flâneuse  – a woman who is “determined, resourceful…keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.”  Whether or not you are familiar with each city, her attention to the idiosyncrasies of the neighborhoods connects you to the landscape. As she addresses famous women who have walked the cities – Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, and others – a connection between creativity and the dangers of women’s striving for independence in a man’s world emerges.  I have not yet finished the book – had to take time out to take a walk.

9780062300546_p0_v6_s192x300   Hillbilly Elegy

I was determined not to read this book, but too many like-minded friends urged me to try  J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.   Although Vance’s conversational style makes the book easy to read, the misery detailing the violence, poverty and addiction in poor white communities makes it hard to digest.  So much has been written about the book, both as social commentary and political influence (see reviews in The New Yorker and  major newspapers), but basically the memoir is sad and depressing – despite the author’s rise from poverty to the Marines and finally Yale Law School – yet, raising awareness and asking questions.

61eioJoO+wL._AC_UL160_  The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

The English translation of Korean Buddhist monk Haemin Sunim’s The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down offers a series of short essays followed by short messages based on his 140 character tweets about faith and mindfulness.  The book reminded me of a gift I received years ago when I was in the throes of career building – Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much.  Open either book at any page to get a short fortune cookie message with advice. Sometimes it is amazingly appropriate.

 

Summer Reinventions

The summer in Hawaii is not very different from the rest of the year, just hotter, more humid, and more tourists.  Most residents are content to live in a place where others can only visit, but can sometimes feel trapped on the farthest rock in the middle of the ocean  Reading may offer an escape on days when the trade winds do not blow and the yearning for a civilized alternate life lingers in the air.  Women in books often reinvent themselves, from Bernadette to Alice, offering a cool escape through their stories.

Unknown Jodi Picoult’s feud with best-selling author Jonathan Franzen kept me from her books.   After her Small Great Things was recommended by two friends, I finally took on the author.  Whether or not her work fits into the category of literary fiction, her book tackles an ugly reality and forces the reader into introspection.  Her expected ending has a surprise twist, somehow forcing her message.  Ruth, her main character, stays true to herself, and it’s the villain who reinvents himself.

Unknown Nina George’s The Little French Bistro weaves romance into a desperate struggle to escape.  With the charm and beauty of a coastal village in Brittany as the setting, sixty year old Marianne casts aside her miserable forty years of marriage and begins again with a new attitude and a better connection.   I missed reading George’s “The Little Paris Bookshop” – another book about new beginnings; reinvention seems to be her theme –  what better place to reinvent yourself than Paris.

Unknown Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk has a sophisticated Dorothy Parker literary aura, as the eighty-five year old New Yorker who lives in Murray Hill reminisces about milestones in her life on New Year’s Eve, 1984. The book is a series of vignettes as she revisits old haunts and recalls important moments in her life represented in restaurants, bars, parks, Penn Station, and Macy’s, where she worked for years as as advertising executive.  The book was inspired by the real life of Margaret Fishback, poet and Macy’s ad-writing wonder of the 1930s.   The neighborhoods have changed over the years as have the people, but Lillian remains curious and loyal, making new friends as she walks – the cop on the beat, the pregnant woman waiting outside the hospital, the store clerk who sells her an amaryllis bulb.  In true New York style, she has also an encounter with three muggers.  Anyone familiar with New York will recognize her – someone who needs no reinvention.  Sprinkled within her reminiscences are lines from Margaret Fishback’s books of poetry.

When life seems gray

And short of fizz

It seems that way

Because it is.