Published by Algonquin ISBN 9781616200541
Trade paperback, $14.95, 384 pages
I read Caroline Leavitt's best selling and critically acclaimed novel Pictures of You a few years ago and became so invested in her characters and story, I couldn't wait to see what she would write next. It was worth the wait because Is This Tomorrow is a knockout of a novel.
Ava Lark is a divorcee with a twelve-year-old son Lewis. They move to a small suburb near Boston in 1956, where a divorced woman, not to mention a Jewish divorced woman, is looked upon with suspicion.
The only friend she has is a widow, Dot, who has two children Jimmy and Rose. Jimmy, Rose and Lewis are best friends, and Jimmy has a little crush on Ava. Ava is kind to Jimmy and Rose, but when Jimmy goes missing, people (including the police) focus their attention on Ava and the many men (six) she has dated over the past three years.
While the framework of the missing boy propels the storyline, it is the characters of Ava and Lewis who are the heart of this story. Rather than a typical mystery novel, this beautiful book is about what it feels like to be an outsider.
Ava is lonely; the women she works with leave her out of their social activities and the neighborhood women fear that the beautiful Ava will steal their husbands. She dates a musician, and planned to introduce him to Lewis on the day that Jimmy disappeared.
The boyfriend asks Ava to move away with him, but she cannot do that to Lewis. He is devastated by the disappearance of his best friend, and he and Rose spend all their time trying to find out what happened to Jimmy.
Leavitt clearly did a lot of research of the time period. I felt totally immersed in the atmosphere of that time- the fear of Communism, the food they ate, the clucking about Ava being a working woman, the way the neighborhood kids played outside without adult supervision.
The second half of the book moves forward in time, and we see Lewis working as a nurse aide. I just fell in love with Lewis, and my heart ached so much for him. He struggles to find his place in this world, to find someone to love and share his life, but is difficult to get beyond his past.
The mystery of what happens to Jimmy is solved, and how it is solved comes as a shock to many people, myself included.
Leavitt writes beautifully and her turn of phrase really caught my eye. As Lewis gets older, he no longer gives Ava a kiss goodnight.
"I forgot," he'd tell her in the morning, but he forgot to kiss her more and more, and she found herself collecting those losses like debts that might never be paid."
When Lewis begins to meet his coworkers at a weekly bowling game, he thinks about how little he really knows his friends.
"It made him wonder how well he really knew John or Mick, or when you thought about it, how well they knew him. When he talked, he shot the breeze about the hospital or Madison. It was all casual, loose as pocket change that never adds up to anything."I think most people at one time or another have felt like an outsider, and so can relate to Ava and Lewis. Leavitt taps into those feelings of loneliness, and brings these characters to vivid life. We feel for Lewis and are grateful that we don't face the uncertainty that Dot and Rose feel when Jimmy is missing.
It is said that good fiction makes the reader empathetic; if that is true, then Is This Tomorrow is great fiction, for my heart ached for all of the people in this terrific novel, an Indie Next Pick for May.
rating 5 of 5
Caroline Leavitt's website is here.
My post on Caroline Leavitt and Christina Kline's discussion at the Center for Fiction is here.
The link to Caroline Leavitt's website is here.