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 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.
Lucy runs away with her high school teacher, William, on a Friday, the last day of school, a June morning shiny with heat. She's downstairs in the kitchen, and Iris has the TV on. The weather guy, his skin golden as a cashew, is smiling about power outages, urging the elderly and the sick to stay inside, his voice sliding like a trombone, and as soon as she hears the word elderly, Lucy glances uneasily at Iris.
"He doesn't mean me, honey," Iris says mildly, putting more bacon to snap in the pan. "I'm perfectly fine."
Good, Lucy thinks, good, because it makes it that much easier for her to do what she's going to do. Lucy is terrified, but she acts as if everything is ordinary. She eats the bacon, the triangles of rye toast, and the scrambled eggs that Iris leaves her, freckling them with pepper and pushing the lumpy curds around her plate. Lucy drinks the orange juice Iris pours for her and picks up the square multivitamin next to her plate, pretending to swallow ...
Caroline Leavitt's ability to bring complex characters to life in a way that touches the reader to the core is amazing. I found myself completely immersed in each subplot as the novel progressed. This ability to engage the reader in such a complex way is the mark of a great novel.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
Full Review (475 words).
Cruel Beautiful World is set in the early '70s against the specter of the Manson girls.
The horrific story of Charles Manson, the cult leader who believed he was the Messiah and who then orchestrated murders in Los Angeles to spark a race war, is fairly well-known at least in American culture.
More recently, his "girls," women attracted to his cause and who believed he was Jesus Christ, have enjoyed renewed attention in the spotlight thanks to a series of documentaries and novels about them. These girls, barely out of their teens, were recruited by Manson as part of his "family" and were active members of the bizarre cult he founded.
Among the girls is Leslie Van Houten, now 66 and serving time in a California prison, who was an ...
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