Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon
Published by Viking, 336 pages, $26
When unwed mother Bea leaves her baby Lucy under pear trees, it is Emma, already a mother of nine, who saves her. They’re two very different women. Emma is a feisty Irish fisherman’s wife who boldly makes pear moonshine during Prohibition in Gloucester. Bea is a young Jewish pianist raised by a socially anxious mother who strives to mimic WASP ways, encouraging a military officer to flirt with her daughter—whom he then, fatefully, impregnates.
Bea goes on to Radcliffe, but her hidden pain leads her to drop out and sink into despondency. She marries the secretly gay Albert, who knows nothing of her lost Lucy, and tipples in private while publicly promoting the “dry” position and writing speeches for mayoral candidate Josiah Story. Emma, meanwhile, has an affair with Story, who runs the stone quarry where the thrillingly independent Lucy feigns boyhood to work alongside her brothers.
Gloucester native Anna Solomon threads class differences and ironies throughout her sophisticated narrative, set during the tumultuous political times when Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. Through her ornately descriptive style, we get to know the inner and outer selves of the co-mothers, whose lives intersect and eventually reconnect when Emma is hired as a nurse for Bea’s ailing uncle. The climactic realization leads to pain for both women—but daughters, we see, are not necessarily constrained by parental torment.
From Page 47: When Lucy was a baby, a woman had hovered at the fringes of Emma’s thoughts, without face or name, a receptacle for whatever Emma might feel for her at any given moment. Pity. Incomprehension. Disgust. Pity again. She even felt guilty toward her, as if Emma had stolen Lucy against the woman’s wishes. Her guilt, perhaps, helped explain why the Murphys had not found another orchard for their pears. Maybe, though her heart did not stop clanging the entire time they picked, Emma felt she had to give the woman the chance to take Lucy back.