Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, chaos and control, as it explores what happens when you’re responsible for things you cannot make right.
Set against a backdrop of peace, love, and the Manson murders, the novel is a reflection of the era: exuberant, defiant, and precarious all at once. And Caroline Leavitt is at her mesmerizing best in this haunting, nuanced portrait of love, sisters, and the impossible legacy of family. -- Algonquin
If you're going to read one book this month, CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Caroline Leavitt is the one! I am friends with Ms. Leavitt on Facebook, and she's been tempting me with this gorgeous cover for months. It's got that 1970s vibe that just draws me in -- the girl's sunny yellow dress and the trail of smoke. I could hardly wait to read this novel, and it truly was one of my highlights of SIBA when I scored a copy!
CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD is a beautifully written story about two teenage girls and the woman who adopted them after their parents died. Lucy Gold is 16 years old and has never quite fit in at school unlike her older sister Charlotte. Charlotte is the responsible sister, the one who makes good grades, gets into a good college... and plays mom to Lucy. Iris is actually their half-sister, but the girls are unaware of this. All they know is that she took them in when they needed a home and made many sacrifices for them.
Lucy is quite the character and ends up falling in love and having a hidden affair with her high school English teacher William. When William asks Lucy to run away with him to live in seclusion in rural Pennsylvania, she jumps at the chance to set up a home and live with the man of her dreams. Naturally, Iris and Charlotte are worried sick but Charlotte might have the most difficult adjustment because she's always felt responsible for Lucy.
Lucy quickly learns that living off-the-grid in rural Pennsylvania while William is away teaching all day is far from romantic. She is desperate to contact Iris and Charlotte or even to make new friends; however, William insists that she hide and learn to keep house and make his dinner. As Lucy becomes more desperate, she sneaks out of the house and eventually meets Patrick, a man who runs a farm stand. As Lucy becomes more daring and more independent, William shows a different side of his personality... one that terrifies Lucy and has terrible ramifications for all three women.
I will preface this review by stating that I love Ms. Leavitt's writing. I've read quite a few of her novels, and she's an extremely talented writer. CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD is already getting rave reviews. I think it's on almost every single Fall Reading List that I've seen, and there is good reason for this. I started this novel on the way home from Savannah, and I'm not sure I put it down except to say "hello" to my family. I was that intrigued by this story.
Once again, Ms. Leavitt has outdone herself with creating three memorable characters in Lucy, Iris and Charlotte. These women and their complicated lives got under my skin and didn't leave even after I finished reading the novel. Ms. Leavitt made these three so incredibly real that I felt as if I was involved in their lives. My heart obviously broke for all three of them; however, it was Charlotte that ended up really standing out to me. I felt as if she were the most complex of the three and evolved the most throughout the course of the story.
I also appreciated that there was a bit of a thriller aspect to the novel. Not necessarily like the books I review every Monday for Mystery Mondays, but a suspense and mystery angle nonetheless. There was definitely a shocking turn of events for Lucy, and Charlotte was determined to discover what had happened to her. I don't want to give too much away, but I found Charlotte's desire to pursue the truth to be an interesting driving force in her character's development as well as an intriguing mystery of sorts for the reader.
Another great aspect of this novel was the way Ms. Leavitt decided to tell the story. She featured each character's story separately and allowed the reader to really get to know each one of them. As the characters physically drifted apart, the reader was still able to see how much their lives were affected by each other. The feelings loneliness and guilt resided in each one of these women, and the ways they dealt with these issues determined to their life choices as well as their decisions on whether they could even allow happiness into their lives. She also described how each woman fell in love, and I felt as if knowing this about the women really illuminated their characters.
Needles to say, CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD would make an excellent book club choice. I wasn't able to find a formal reading guide, but I don't think you'll need one. There are so many huge themes in this novel including family, love, guilt, loneliness, sisterhood, obligation, sacrifice, and forgiveness. I absolutely adored this book and would welcome the chance to discuss it with friends. Highly recommended!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.