Leav­ing Lucy Pear

  • Review
By – June 29, 2016

Leav­ing Lucy Pear is not just a hyp­not­ic page-turn­er; it’s also a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten sto­ry of women and moth­er­hood played out against a 1920s Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal backdrop.

It’s 1917 and Beat­rice Haven, a wealthy, accom­plished Jew­ish pianist, is about to enter pres­ti­gious Rad­cliffe Col­lege when she dis­cov­ers that she is preg­nant with the child of a vis­it­ing naval officer’s aide. Her par­ents hide her away at her uncle’s Glouces­ter estate and plan to send the baby to an orphan­age. How­ev­er, the dis­traught Bea choos­es to leave the new­born girl in her uncle’s orchard under a pear tree; she knows a group of intrud­ers slink in under the cov­er of dark­ness at this time every year to rob the trees of their fruit. Emma Mur­phy, wife of a poor fish­er­man, finds the child and rais­es her as one of her many children.

Ten years lat­er, Gloucester’s small-town pol­i­tics and quar­ry trade bring the two fam­i­lies togeth­er again. Lucy Pear just knows she does not belong with the Mur­phys. Emma, a world-weary, prac­ti­cal, and resource­ful woman finds her­self work­ing as a ser­vant for Bea’s fam­i­ly and in an affair with the mar­ried quar­ry own­er. Bea Cohn, now in a mar­riage of con­ve­nience, is haunt­ed and emo­tion­al­ly crip­pled by her life choic­es. Lucy Pear’s jour­ney to reclaim her­self involves her two moth­ers’ lives as well as the many oth­er sig­nif­i­cant char­ac­ters in the story.

The char­ac­ters’ lives are inti­mate­ly tied to the social, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic issues of the time. The nov­el is set dur­ing an era in which Jews could build busi­ness­es and amass wealth, but it helped to change one’s name and hide one’s her­itage in order to achieve suc­cess and make con­nec­tions. The impor­tance of the Sac­co and Vanzetti case to immi­grants and the jus­tice sys­tem also play out through the sto­ry. Cape Ann’s rum-run­ning years show the dark side and dan­gers pro­hi­bi­tion brought to New Eng­land. Solomon also address­es sex­u­al­i­ty, child sex­u­al abuse, and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of child labor laws. The expec­ta­tions of women in soci­ety, moth­er­hood, child­less­ness, and the new avail­abil­i­ty of birth con­trol are inte­gral to the story.

In poet­ic lan­guage, Solomon explores the char­ac­ters’ humane­ness and frail­ties, weav­ing their back­sto­ries seam­less­ly into the nar­ra­tive. She also real­is­ti­cal­ly evokes the feel of Cape Ann and Glouces­ter, Mass­a­chu­setts’ water­ways, stone quar­ries, estates, and work­ing-class areas.With its lessons about accept­ing the past and mak­ing choic­es about the future, Leav­ing Lucy Pear is a sat­is­fy­ing, insight­ful, and mem­o­rable book.

Extra Dia­pers, Two Bot­tles, Four Cans of Evap­o­rat­ed Milk, Five $20 Bills

Excerpt­ed from Leav­ing Lucy Pear: A Nov­el by Anna Solomon

If they were com­ing, this was the night. The pears had stayed yel­low and hard for so long that Bea had start­ed to despair, but they were final­ly ready to pick. The moon was a quar­ter full. The afternoon’s wind had gone limp. Mid­night came and went. Bea count­ed to five hun­dred for extra mea­sure — silent­ly, so she wouldn’t wake the nurse — then she took up the infant from its bassinet, wrapped it in her aunt Vera’s ango­ra shawl, and crept down the cel­lar stairs in her bare feet.

The stairs to the cel­lar were gran­ite, and cold. The orig­i­nal wood­en ones had burned with the orig­i­nal wood­en house in 1873. Bea did not know about the fire but she could smell it, because the cel­lar was the one part of the house that hadn’t need­ed rebuild­ing and its walls retained the fla­vor of ash. She moved toward the bulk­head door as fast as she could, feel­ing along the wall with her free hand, care­ful not to bump the han­dles of shov­els and hoes, though the shov­els and hoes had been through far worse. They had wit­nessed flood and fire. They had been var­i­ous­ly cared for and abused by gen­er­a­tions of gar­den­ers, had been used to plant tulips and to dig graves. They had even, once upon a time, been in the pres­ence of anoth­er unwed moth­er and her infant. Know­ing this might have put Bea’s own suf­fer­ing in per­spec­tive. But she did not know and she had not been taught per­spec­tive. She was eigh­teen, the daugh­ter of ascen­dant Boston Jews who had sent her away to East­ern Point in a black, cur­tained lim­ou­sine the day she start­ed to show.

The bulk­head door was heav­ier than she expect­ed, its diag­o­nal slope demand­ing that it be lift­ed as much as pushed. She had unlocked it from the out­side before going to bed but she hadn’t test­ed its weight and now the thing didn’t budge. She pressed hard­er. The cel­lar was her only way out — she had test­ed the doors on the first floor and every one either shrieked or squeaked or groaned. She pushed again. If she put the baby down, it would cry. Bea start­ed to pant with pan­ic. The cel­lar roof seemed to be drop­ping, the walls squeez­ing. She climbed the bulk­head steps until she was bent near­ly in two, the infant squeezed into the small space between her thighs and chest, and tried to open the door with her back. Her legs shook. Sweat sprang at her neck. She was still soft and weak from the birth two weeks before, her right eye blood­shot though she had no mem­o­ry of push­ing, no mem­o­ry of any of it, noth­ing until a baby was being hand­ed to her, clean and silent, like a doll her moth­er had bought. She was lucky, Bea under­stood — Aunt Vera had hired a doc­tor who had stud­ied in Ger­many with the father of twi­light sleep. There had been mor­phine, there had been scopo­lamine — these, accord­ing to Aunt Vera, would do more to lib­er­ate women than the vote. Bea under­stood that she was sup­posed to under­stand her­self to be lucky. She under­stood that she must have pushed, and that she should be glad not to remem­ber. She pushed now, using her neck, her shoul­ders, every mus­cle in her body. At last the door gave an inch, then two, then light­ened so quick­ly Bea was fol­low­ing it — she had to scram­ble to catch up before it slammed on the ground out­side. She looked behind her, above. The hinge had giv­en a sharp cry. She went stiff wait­ing for anoth­er sound, the nurse’s heavy foot­steps, her heavy call: Beat­rice? She wait­ed until her breath came and qui­et­ed her heart. Then she stepped out into the night.

Through the near trees she could see the far ones in the orchard down below. Slow­ly, her eyes adjust­ed, and she saw the pears them­selves, their waxy orbs glow­ing green­ly in the three-quar­ter dark. Her mouth watered and Bea, embar­rassed by this bod­i­ly secre­tion, turned her thoughts to her Plan.

Walk to orchard.
Wake infant.
Nurse infant.
Change infant.
Check inside paper sack: extra dia­pers, two bot­tles, four cans of Borden’s evap­o­rat­ed milk, five twen­ty-dol­lar bills.
Set infant under most plen­ti­ful tree.

From Leav­ing Lucy Pear: A Nov­el by Anna Solomon, pub­lished on July 26, 2016 by Viking, an imprint of Pen­guin Pub­lish­ing Group, a divi­sion of Pen­guin Ran­dom House LLC. Copy­right by Anna Solomon, 2016.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

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