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Lillian Leyb is a remarkable heroine whose passion, courage, and determination are inspiring. Equally enthralling are the dozen characters whose lives intersect with hers—actors, immigrants, jailbirds, train porters, prostitutes, constables, woodsmen. Sometimes Bloom can’t resist turning off the main path of Lillian’s journey to follow them down their own roads, leaving John Irving-like previews of their futures strewn in Lillian’s wake. Equally enchanting are her playful chapter titles, like “I’ve Lost My Youth, Like a Gambler with Bad Cards” and “Ain’t It Fierce to Be So Beautiful, Beautiful?”
Outstanding 2nd Novel!
Lillian’s reliance on a thesaurus to improve her immigrant English keeps a constant parade of synonyms running through her mind, rather like Quoyle’s mental headlines in The Shipping News: “Lillian tells herself to be calm and to be confident (bold, fearless, having no misgivings, she says to herself, and says next, doubtful, uncertain, dubious, and it is a little reassuring, as she walks down to the gray, windowless house in the middle of a brown valley in a wide white sea, expecting to be killed or raped or left as food for the bears, to know at least three good English words for what she is feeling).” Bloom’s verbal effusiveness will appeal to readers who love long, wandering sentences.
As Lillian slogs alone across the country on her near-hopeless quest, her single-minded hope and determination keep us tethered to her. “Lillian does not believe in anything like God….Lillian believes in luck and hunger....She believes in fear as a motivator and she believes in curiosity…and she believes in will. It is so frail and delicate at night that she can’t even imagine the next morning, but it is so wide and blinding by the middle of the next day that she cannot even remember the terrible night. It is as if she gives birth every day.”
Like every great literary odyssey, Lillian’s story strengthens us for our own dark journeys.
Amy Bloom’s enthralling second novel, Away, evokes Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. Both books explore the seemingly impossible journeys of two protagonists longing for love, redemption, and identify associated with memories. Arresting characters and picturesque landscapes populate both novels. What separates Bloom’s writing from Frazier’s writing is language; Bloom’s sparse, yet powerful prose invokes burial imagery and the power of the number three transcending Lillian Leyb’s journey into a psychological quest.
As Lillian attempts to bury her past in New York City with the help of three men, it is the second half of the book that truly explores the theme of identify. The three characters in this section (Gumdrop Brown, Chinky Chang, and John Bishop - what great names!) help Lillian to find her identity as they seek and receive their own new identities. A beautifully written quest story!