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Michal Lemberger

Poverty, Ethnicity, Sexuality and Class in Anna Solomon’s “Leaving Lucy Pear”

9781594632655In 1917, 18-year-old Beatrice Haven sneaks into her uncle’s pear orchard and leaves her newborn daughter to be raised by the band of thieves who come each year to steal the fruit. So begins the new novel by Anna Solomon, Leaving Lucy Pear (Viking, $26), which investigates the repercussions of that act through the intertwined stories of Bea, Emma Murphy — the poor Irish immigrant who found and raised the baby — and Josiah Story, the would-be politician who brings the women back together 10 years later.

The bulk of the story unfolds in 1927. Bea has barely made it through the decade. The daughter of wealthy, assimilated Boston Jews, she had been a promising pianist about to enter Radcliffe before her pregnancy. Instead, she has suffered at least one breakdown, entered into a marriage of convenience with a gay man, hidden herself away in her uncle’s home, and taken up the cause of Prohibition.

Emma is her polar opposite. Mother of nine — including the titular Lucy Pear — and married to a capricious drunk, she inhabits the lowest rung of a strictly hierarchical society, forced by circumstance to make one uncharacteristic choice after another in the name of survival.

It is no mistake that this story is set during Prohibition, because so much is suppressed in this world. Solomon does a good job of showing the ways in which different actors, each trapped by the constraints of sexuality, religion, ethnicity, and class, act and interpret the actions of others. Looking out from their isolated, self-interested or self–protective shells, the characters circle one another, unable to close the chasms that separate them.

The novel is driven by the tensions of family, attenuated or complicated as they may be. Bea’s relationship with her mother is so toxic that even a gesture meant to help ends up leading to the disastrous climax, when Bea’s Jewishness — tenuous though it is — strips her of the power her wealth had once afforded her. It is only then, when she is brought low, where Emma has always been forced to dwell, that the two women can find common ground and move forward.

But Bea’s decision to hand over her daughter under cover of night haunts this novel, showing how one choice can reshape personal, familial, even political landscapes.


 

Michal Lemberger is the author of After Abel and Other Stories. She lives in Los Angeles.