Monday, February 2, 2015

"Is This Tomorrow," by Caroline Leavitt

I have read Caroline Leavitt’s novel “Pictures of You,” and liked it (this was before I started this blog), so when I saw that she had a new novel out, “Is This Tomorrow” (no question mark) (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013), I checked it out. At first the theme of the missing child almost kept me from reading the novel, first because that theme seems to have appeared too often in fiction in the past few years, and second because the theme is just so sad, and hard for a parent to think about. But because I knew I liked Leavitt’s writing, I persevered and read the novel, and I am glad I did. The first important thing to know is that the story takes place in the 1950s and 1960s, and the mores of the time, especially for women, are heavy presences. For example, one of the main characters, Ava Lark, the mother of another main character, Lewis, is divorced, and therefore somewhat shunned by the neighbors and treated a little too familiarly by her male (of course, male!) boss. Ava’s ex-husband is completely out of her life and that of Lewis, who pines for his father. Their neighbor Dot is also on her own with her kids Jimmy and Rose, who become Lewis’ best friends, forming a tight triumverate. But then (and this happens very early in the novel, so my telling you is not a spoiler) young teen Jimmy goes missing. The effect of his disappearance is devastating for all four of the other characters (two mothers and two teens), and as the novel jumps a few years into the future, we see that it has long-term effects on their behaviors, choices, emotions, romantic relationships, and almost every other aspect of their lives. Dot and Rose move away, and Ava and Lewis lose contact with them. But when the novel jumps to the time when Lewis is a young man in his early and mid-twenties, something happens that brings the two families back into contact with each other. This is where telling you more about the plot would be a spoiler, so I will stop there. I will just say that there is no complete resolution, and how could there be after the terrible events of the story? But as time goes on, there is learning, there is softening, there is connection, there is love, and that is all to the good. This is a wrenching story, but it also has much to tell us about the harm done by society's prejudices, as well as about families, deep friendships, love, and connection.
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