Thursday, October 13, 2016
CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Caroline Leavitt
Love and loss, actions and choices combine in this beautiful mesmerizing novel by Caroline Leavitt. It is the story of a family rent asunder set in the late 1960s, the years of the Vietnam War, the Manson murders, a time of hope and disillusionment.
The family at the heart of the story consists of three - Lucy, a pretty rambunctious teenager, Charlotte, her older, more settled sister who has looked out for Lucy since their parents died in a car accident, and there is Iris, a childless widow who took the girls in. Iris has had no experience in mothering but as the years passed the three have become a family.
Lucy is not an exceptional student while Charlotte is a standout. But Lucy has her dreams and thinks they may have come true when her English teacher, William Lallo, takes an interest in her. He praises her works, tells her she has talent as a writer. Lallo is the kind of teacher most girls would fancy in 1969 with his jeans and long hair. He seems to have an understanding of the kids and the world at large. It doesn’t take long before Lucy is meeting him at his apartment. From there it goes to running away together, after all they only need each other and they will make a home. This all sounds so romantic to Lucy.
Lucy leaves a note for Charlotte and Iris telling them not to worry (as if that were possible). Lallo find another job in Pennsylvanis and finds a place for them to live in a desolate area where Lucy’s only company are chickens. He tells her they must hide until she is 18 and of legal age. Months pass and Charlotte and Iris hear nothing from Lucy. There is no help from the authorities as “kids run away all the time.”
Charlotte is desolate. Blaming herself for not being closer to Lucy and understanding her. She leaves Lucy’s bedroom window open each night in the hope that Lucy will return. As time passes Charlotte goes off to college yet her younger sister is never far from her mind. Now Iris is alone and it is at this point that we learn her story.
Lallo becomes more controlling, insisting that Lucy never leave the house. Her isolation is almost more than she can bear and she manages to briefly forge a friend with Patrick who runs a nearby vegetable stand. At one point she even manages to send a postcard to Iris and Charlotte.
Throughout this pulse pounding novel Leavitt has been building suspense that culminates in a tragic turn in Lucy’s life.
Iris and Charlotte are desperate for answers and Charlotte takes it upon herself to look into the matter full time. Leavitt has crafted a stellar story - compelling, gorgeous and haunting which may leave readers pondering as to the real meaning of family and what family members owe one another.