CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, by Carline Leavitt, starts right out with a hook. Lucy Gold is sixteen. And she’s in love with her teacher. William is thirty. Ut oh. Trouble already. It intrigued me immediately. The story escalates into much more than an infatuation quickly as William and Lucy take their affair to a much higher level as they plan to run away together.
Lucy was orphaned at the age of five. Her sister Charlotte is 18 months older. They were taken in by their aunt Iris who didn’t even know they existed. But is she truly their aunt?Subterfuge is smeared all over this story. And begins right at the start. These girls are so different; in looks, in temperament, and in general.
The story is set in 1969-1970. I remember this era so well. After all, Charles Manson led the cult that murdered Sharon Tate and others. And the Viet Nam war was going strong and taking so many of my friends along with it. It was a time of peace, love, rock and roll. I remember the bell bottom jeans, the straight long hair on both boys and girls, and the atmosphere of free love all over this country.
This is the story of three women. They are all living lives full of secrets and anxiety. And they are each so darn different.. Lucy is a wild and crazy girl with untamable blond curls that float around her head like a halo. She doesn’t fit in at school. And she can hardly wait to fly the coop. Charlotte is studious and smart, but she’s nowhere near as pretty as Lucy. Iris was married once, but that’s a story of itself. The man she married turned out to be a stranger. They had no children. And just when she was planning a trip to Paris she received the call that changed her life forever.
Challenges abound for each of these characters. But once Lucy actually runs away with William their worlds turn upside down. She ends up hating rural life. Even though she loved William she couldn’t stand the isolation. Since she was underage William insisted she not leave the house without him. They had to hide their relationship. After all, he could be jailed for kidnapping a minor. Time is not Lucy’s friend. When she hears about the Manson murders she becomes afraid and starts thinking about leaving… William will have none of it. He becomes more and more of an ogre. She is basically being kept against her will by now. And then the plot thickens. The sweet story takes a tragic spin and all bets are off.
Mostly, I really liked this book. I did think it was long in parts. But the story itself is great. And Leavitt knows her way around writing. She certainly sets the tone for the times. It took me back to granny dresses and those funky round glasses favored by John Lennon, and all the hippies.
The character of William is complicated as are the three women. Leavitt does a good job of showing us who they really are. And who they aren’t. It made me think long after I closed the book.
I read an advance copy of this book. Thanks to the people at Workman and Algonquin. It’s a winner.