The novel starts off in 1917 with Bea, a young 17 year old Jewish girl who is staying at her Aunt and Uncle's home because she's been disgraced by becoming pregnant. Her parents are well off, and of course Bea has ruined everything: her college years at Radcliffe, her growing talent as a pianist; her chance at a good marriage that will help to erase the shame her mother feels at being Jewish in a world that doesn't tolerate them--especially the more well-to-do set. Bea is supposed to give the baby girl up for adoption, but the coldness of the adoption nurse leaves Bea fearing for her daughter's well being. Instead, Bea takes her daughter to her Uncle's pear orchard, where she knows during a certain time of night, at a certain time of year, an Irish family steals pears to make perry, a hard hitting liquor made out of fermented pears. She leaves her baby under a pear tree, and sure enough, the Irish family finds the baby and takes her away.
It's ten years later, and Emma Murphy struggles to keep her family fed, and her husband Roland has been gone out to sea for two months. Her daughter, Lucy Pear, doesn't look like any of her other eight children, but she's a good, sweet girl, and Emma considers Lucy her own. Emma's world changes when she goes to Josiah Story, a wealthy man who runs the local quarry, and is running for mayor. She is looking for start up money to help her start a mill to produce perry. Josiah is drawn to Emma, and works it so that Emma begins an affair with him. They're both married, but find solace in each other, even though Emma resents Josiah's hold over her and her family's well being.
This affair with Josiah brings Emma into the realm of Bea Cohen, who is staying with her Uncle and needs help taking care of him. Josiah offers Emma's services as a nurse for Bea's Uncle. It's a way for Josiah to garner Bea's support for his mayoral run. Yes, this is the Bea who gave her baby away ten years before. Now married, she has never forgotten the baby she gave up, and wonders what happened to her. Emma sees Bea, and immediately knows she is Lucy's mother. How can she keep it a secret? The two women, both from completely different social classes, begin a tentative friendship that soon becomes complicated.
This novel has so many layers, so many issues, that it would make a very good book club discussion. Everyone in this novel pretends to be someone they are not; they all hide their heartbreak and misery behind public masks. There isn't one character in this novel who is happy, and it is the slow unraveling of those issues that keeps you reading. There are a few surprises, but mostly it is a satisfying story about social unrest, class strife, and regrets. Oh so many regrets.
I'm happy to announce the winner of a copy of Leaving Lucy Pearl:
Caren E., you are a winner! Congratulations! And a big thank you to all who entered. More giveaways are coming soon.
Thank you to Penguin/Random House for the advanced copy, and for sponsoring the giveaway.
Rating: 7/10 for a novel that has characters that are full of faults and regrets, but are fascinating because they aren't perfect. A look at America during 1927, when it seemed the world had gone crazy, and the growing pains of our nation were very evident.