Several years ago I fell in love with Anna Solomon’s first novel, The Little Bride, so it took hardly any press on the news of her second, Leaving Lucy Pear, to convince me to run out and grab it. In both books, Solomon weaves vivid imagery with a deep study of characters, so that the events of one person’s story are molded by the decisions of another.
Leaving Lucy Pear opens on a moonlit summer night in 1917. A young mother hides behind a stone wall in a pear orchard and watches as another woman cradles the tiny infant girl left there and takes her away. The young baby, now called Lucy Pear and raised in an Irish Catholic family, never quite fits in, and by the age of nine, she knows she is different, not a “Murphy by blood:”
She was dark where they were light, round where they were straight. At her nape there was a fur, very soft but very dark, which spread out on either side of her spine like the wings of a skate.
And while Lucy is the cornerstone of the novel, it is the rise and fall of those around her that define her journey and fuel a determination to find her place in the world—a safe place.
This novel runs through the years of women’s suffrage and the right to vote, prohibition and political unrest, and is rich in theme and plot (so much so that the book deserves a much deeper study than what I can write here). But central to its core is the story of three women who battle internally with the role of motherhood, mother as protector, and with what it means when a one fails to protect:
- Bea, the young woman in the orchard, relinquishes her baby to strangers, thinking it will save her from shame and ruin. Years later, we find her gaunt, fragile, and unstable around the child of another as she cannot forget her own.
- Lillian, Bea’s mother, wants only to make a name for her family, shedding as much of her Jewish identity as possible. When her efforts push her daughter into a life of loneliness, regret, and emotional distress, Lillian spends years searching for repair.
- Emma Murphy, who takes baby Lucy in her arms, seems the perfect mother. But when Lucy comes under the eyes of her adoptive father in a confusing, uncomfortable, and threatening way, Emma—in the throes of her own secret—doesn’t notice.
Then, young Lucy takes matters into her own hands with a strength that brings the women together and offers the hope of redemption for them all.
Like Solomon’s first novel, Leaving Lucy Pear sheds light on the Jewish experience in America, touches on cultural expectations, hinges on gender roles and women who go against the grain. A mix of intrigue and insight, betrayal and trust, the story draws you in immediately and lingers long after you reach the end.
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