Leaving Lucy Pear, Anna Solomon, author; Rebecca Lowman, narrator

lucyThis is a very interesting novel about the lives of several families beginning in 1917, when class and background were more important and one’s social standing and acceptance into society was considered quite an achievement. Three disparate families, from widely diverse backgrounds are followed closely as their paths intersect.
Beatrice Cohen, nee Haven, is the daughter of Lillian and Henry Haven, nee Hirsch, of Boston. Henry manufactures a boot that is all the rage. Lillian is very much the social climber. She was not born into her position and is well aware of her shortcomings and the drawbacks not only of her education, but also of her religion. This family is Jewish. Lillian works hard to learn proper decorum and speech to enable her to compete with, and engage with, the upper crust of society, as if she was also born with the same opportunity, wealth and schooling that was provided for them. When her daughter Bea was 18, in 1917, she encouraged her to socialize with a young man whose father was a man Henry wanted as a customer of Haven Boots, and soon afterward, Bea found that she was in a compromised position. To spare the family the consequences of the ensuing shame and humiliation of an unwed mother, she was sent away to stay with her Aunt and Uncle, Vera and Ira Hirsch, until the birth of the child.
Bea enjoyed her stay with her aunt and uncle. Vera was a freer spirit and was more accepting of her fall from grace than her parents. When Bea takes a dislike to the woman from the Jewish Orphanage because she seems cold-hearted and unaffectionate, she refuses to give her the baby. Vera is kind and offers to allow Bea to raise the child at  her home, but she is ill, and it is not a practical solution. Instead, Bea devises another, very secret plan. Every year, on one particular night when her uncle’s Braffet pears were ripe for picking, “the pear people” would sneak onto the property and strip the trees of their fruit. Essentially, they were stealing the pears from the orchard planted by her Uncle Ira, years before. Bea decided that on that particular night, she would leave the baby under a tree in the pear orchard while she waited and watched to see who would come. She would know if they were suitable prospects to raise her daughter. If she didn’t like the people who approached the child, she would intercede. She had brought a whistle to scare them off or get their attention, in that event. However, t he woman who approached the child with her son, appeared to be soft spoken, unlike her husband, and she seemed loving to the baby and her own children. She allowed her to take the child away.
The story then moved to 1927. Bea is now married to the wealthy Albert Cohn, a banker, who was not a very happy man, but who was very considerate. Albert had his own difficulties in life to deal with and so their marriage serves the needs of both. They remained childless, by choice, protecting each other’s secrets. Bea became engaged in women’s causes and could be described as a feminist, actively pursuing their civil rights. She was very much a part of her society.
Josiah Story was married to the very wealthy Susannah Stanton. Her father, Caleb, owned the Stanton Granite Company. The Story’s were childless, but it was not for the lack of effort. Susannah had been unable to carry a child to term. Encouraged by Susannah, who was very aware of social standings, he decided to run for mayor. She was an enormous help to him, organizing his life and helping him navigate the social and political world. However, although he loved her, he was a man who was not satisfied with his life, and his roving eye brought him in contact with another woman. Josiah is not very likeable and seemed pompous and condescending when he interacted with others he considered beneath him in status.
Emma Murphy was poor. Hers was a working class family. However, she was not childless. She was the mother of 9 children. Roland Murphy, her husband was a fisherman who was absent for extended periods of time, often drinking up his profits before he got home. He had the capacity for cruelty. Emma needed money, and so she approached the very wealthy Josiah Story to seek his help with her effort to start a business producing Perry, a drink that was fermented from pears. In exchange for a piece of the business (which would use the pears the family stole every year from Ira Hirsch’s orchard), he provided her with the funding, the presses, the kegs and whatever else was needed. He also provided her with a job to earn extra income and hired her children to work at his father-in-law’s quarry. However, this business transaction came at a greater cost to her than she first thought. Josiah soon began to visit her at night.
Josiah arranged for Emma to work as a nurse for Ira Hirsch, Bea Cohn’s uncle. Josiah provided this service to Bea because he wanted to encourage her support for his political campaign, and it enabled him to be with Emma. Bea had been caring for her Uncle Ira, who was unwell. A nurse, he announced, would enable her to give more time to his campaign. Because of this confluence of events, Emma soon realized that she was meeting the true mother of her “daughter”, Lucy Pear, named so because of where she was found. Their resemblance to each other was startling. When I became truly engaged with Lucy, she had reached the age of 9 and was quite bright and precocious. Much of the book considers her 9th year in detail.
The pear orchard and the foundling are the catalysts for the narrative. Each needs the other to exist. The trials and tribulations of these families were explored in depth at first, but the conclusion was thin and left me wanting. The development of the lives of the characters felt hurried and incomplete. Each character was featured thinking of their future, in their present moment. It was not that clear that the author was taking the characters into their futures in reality, not just in their imagination. Also, some of the characteristics attributed to Lucy seemed more appropriate for an older child, however, this was a different time frame than the present one in which children are better protected until a certain age and are given far greater opportunity. At least, the reader learned of each character’s moment of epiphany as they journeyed forward.
The narrator read with feeling and placed each character in the story as an individual easily recognized by the tone and tenor of her voice. It was clear who was being featured, even as each of the characters engaged in some form of deception with each other, often condescending, taunting and belittling one another, driven to this behavior by their own frustration with their lives.
I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the stereotypical cast of the characters. The Hirsches and the Havens, “the Jews”, were depicted as largely driven by appearances and financial gain. They often changed their names to be more accepted and to find employment, which was true of the times. It was better not to be easily recognized as a Jew; the Murphy’s were Irish and were poor, drank to excess and had sometimes exhibited less than stellar morals; Jews, like the Irish were considered inferior by the elite of society, the White Anglo Saxon Protestants. The Story’s and Stanton’s were WASPs who were the more accepted upper class of society; the people of color, like the Irish, held menial jobs.
The novel engaged the reader with the social problems of the time frame it was set in; the issues of elitism, civil rights, race, religion, politics, class and status were introduced. These issues were woven into the novel as the characters engaged in the current events of their day and lifestyles, in the early part of the 20th century. It made it a bit more authentic. Many of the issues of the day, women’s suffrage, birth control, homosexuality, prohibition, child labor laws, the right to vote and the rights of women would surely be brought to mind and readers may feel we still fall short when it comes to dealing with and reforming these problems.


About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
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