As I count down to the publication date of Her Own Vietnam, I’m counting up to 30 fantastic novelists you should know.
Empty-handed but not for long
I met Caroline Leavitt once, for 30 seconds. She was about to do a reading at a book festival; I was in the audience.
I planned to pick up her book after the reading, so when we met I was a little embarrassed to be empty-handed. I did buy the book afterwards, and I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be my favorite of her novels: Is This Tomorrow?
Is This Tomorrow?
In the novel, Ava Lark and her young son Lewis move into a lovely Boston suburb, hoping for a new start. Instead, they are snubbed and ostracized.
The year is 1956, and everything about Ava is wrong for her new community. She’s divorced, she’s Jewish, she works for a living – and she’s beautiful, which the local husbands have noticed. When a child in the neighborhood disappears, a child who is friends with Ava’s son and has spent time at her house even when Lewis was gone, the town’s suspicion turns sinister.
Leavitt does a powerful job of creating the atmosphere of casual anti-Semitism and rabid anti-Communism that permeates the leafy suburb. Anyone with a different style, anyone with different values, anyone Jewish is immediately suspected of being a Communist.
Ava Lark is a compelling character: lively, compassionate, bold but vulnerable. She’s the kind of outsider you long to befriend, but Leavitt makes you wonder: if you lived in that town, with its harshly enforced code of conformity, would you dare to reach out to someone like Ava?
She’s a little busy
Caroline Leavitt keeps herself busy. She writes essays, screenplays and book reviews. She teaches writing. She maintains a lively Facebook presence and writes a wonderful blog, on which she interviews all kinds of authors. And she’s a New York Times bestselling author who has written ten novels, with another coming out in 2015, called Cruel Beautiful World.
I know where I’m going to be when that new book of hers is released. On the couch, reading and falling deeply into the fraught, luminous world created by Caroline Leavitt.