Leaving Lucy Pear is a fictional novel set in 1920s New England that follows the entangled lives of two women who are both mothers to the same girl.
In 1917, a sexual mistake leaves the young and unwed Beatrice Haven pregnant at eighteen. Her parents send her away to live with her Aunt and Uncle during the pregnancy, with the plan that the baby will be sent straight to an orphanage after being born. However, after having the baby, Beatrice sneaks out of her uncle’s house and leaves her newborn baby at the foot of a pear orchard, with the hope that the family who steal their pears will discover the baby and claim it as their own. Bea’s plan succeeds, and she watches as another woman claims the infant as her own. This is Bea’s way of leaving her shameful secret behind and making a fresh start.
But ten years later, both of the women’s lives intersect again. Beatrice, who previously had a bright life ahead of her, is now a fragile, broken woman who hides from her disappointments and refuses to face them. She hires Emma Murphy – the woman who found baby Lucy Pear under that orchard – to be a nurse to Bea’s uncle Ira.
Meanwhile, Lucy has grown up into a confident, capable and headstrong young girl, who is desperate to flee to Canada. She is dressing as a boy to get work so that she can save money, but she often thinks about her real parents – she worked out long ago that her lack of resemblance to her siblings meant she was adopted.
Leaving Lucy Pear emanates the feel of a Victorian novel. In the present, we’re thrust into a time where Prohibition is in full swing, and post-WWI America is in the midst of rampant xenophobia and all of the characters can’t help but question their future and where they’re headed. Anna Solomon alternates chapters so that they focus on different characters, and although this does not seem entirely unnecessary, each character’s suffering and uncertainty is thrust into the limelight. Their hopes and dreams remain unfulfilled, and this stays with the reader long after they’ve finished the book.
Anna has a way of drawing you in, so that you love all of these characters despite their many flaws. You root for them and you cheer for them, but at the same time that sinking feeling in your stomach keeps growing where you know that their lives could be heading in a dramatic turn. Emma has more children than she can afford and a drunk, volatile husband Roland who is physically abusing Lucy. And Anna allows us to revisit Bea’s life after she gave up Lucy – her fragile psychology, her breakdown and institutionalisation, her withdrawal, her failed marriage to a homosexual man Albert, and her gradual depression and sadness.
Anna has done a wonderful job of weaving together a group of characters who are all dealing with the consequences of their actions. None of them are perfect, and yet they all seem to be aware of it. This book is set against one of America’s most tempestuous decades and the novel masterfully dives into class, freedom and the importance and meaning of family.