Review: Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Expected publication: October 4th, 2016 by Algonquin Books.
Set in the early 1970s against the specter of the Manson girls, when the peace and love movement begins to turn ugly, this is the story of a runaway teenager’s disappearance and her sister’s quest to discover the truth.
Caroline Leavitt is at her mesmerizing best in this haunting, nuanced portrait of love, sisters, and the impossible legacy of family.
It’s 1969, and sixteen-year-old Lucy is about to run away with a much older man to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default caretaker for most of their lives, Charlotte’s youth has been marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into a nightmare.
With gorgeous prose and indelible characters, Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, and what happens when you’re responsible for things you can’t fix. (Goodreads)
This is almost one of those stories that is hard to review. It’s such a whirlwind and I inhaled it in just one day. There’s something about the vintage feel of the artwork on the cover and the time period of the story that is haunting and evocative. The characters in Cruel Beautiful World definitely left me breathless. It seemed so real set against the backdrop of the late 60’s and early 70’s. From fashion to war to Mason and his girls on trial I felt that Lucy’s, Charlotte’s and Iris’s story came alive.
Lucy is in love with her teacher. The problem is their age difference. Lucy is just 16 years old, almost 17. She secretly runs way with him to hide in rural Pennsylvania until she turns 18. The fairytale of love and being an adult is overshadowed by loneliness and isolation. While William goes off to school Lucy is stuck in their deserted clapboard house to read, write and care for the chickens. Lucy quickly realizes that she is not happy and wants to call home. William refuses to let her do anything. He wants to “protect” her. He loves her. But soon Lucy finds a way to start working at a local farm stand and befriends the owner. Lucy tries convincing William that she misses her family, she wants to get her GED, she wants to learn to drive, maybe move to a bigger city but William refuses to listen. I became so enthralled with Lucy, William. and Patrick. I really wanted Lucy to get a happy ending. Lucy and Patrick were by far my favorite characters. Each character had a healthy backstory and quirks that made them so believable. Reading about Iris and her story was so interesting. I didn’t think I would quite understand her as a character but once her storyline opened up I was pulling for her to find happiness.
I wish I could say that Cruel Beautiful World had a happy ending and maybe in some ways it did. Instead of rainbows and unicorns, I was smacked with reality and that felt more powerful than anything I could have hoped for.
I received this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.