Susan Schwartzman

If you read only one book this summer, make sure it’s Douglas Kennedy’s Leaving the World. This riveting, poignant page-turner explores how our childhoods affect the choices we make in life, how we make sense of life when tragedy strikes and the randomness of destiny. Kennedy dexterously combines a fast-paced plot with complex characters, provocative themes and difficult moral questions about family, love, loss, betrayal and the impact of the past upon the future.

Jane Howard, the protagonist and narrator, is looking back on her life as the story begins, reflecting on her 13th birthday—a day that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Her parents are vehemently arguing at a Manhattan restaurant, drawing attention to themselves. When they finally pause, Jane tells her father that she’s never getting married and never having children. To her mother’s dismay, she adds, “No one is really happy.” When Jane wakes up the next day, her father is gone.

So begins the downward trajectory of Jane’s life. Her mother blames her daughter for her lot in life. Her father abandons and exploits her. Jane finds temporary happiness in a clandestine, adulterous affair with her Ph.D. mentor that ends tragically. Then she falls in love with Theo, who is erratic, unfaithful and exploitative, just like her father. A child results from their relationship—the one happy consequence of an otherwise disastrous affair.

But when a random accident kills her beloved daughter, Jane leaves her world, fleeing her job, home and friends for a small town in Northwest Canada where no one knows her. Only the disappearance of a young girl gradually draws Jane back into life.

Kennedy explores grief and tragedy with unrelenting intensity, and while the novel’s ending is not quite a happy one, it is nonetheless satisfying. There are no simplistic answers to life’s random tragedies; while Jane temporarily leaves the world, she re-enters it knowing she has no other choice but to do so.

Kennedy has been a staple on international bestseller lists for years, and his books have sold millions of copies worldwide. But Kennedy hasn’t had a U.S. publisher in more than 10 years. Time magazine said, “[Kennedy] may be the most successful American novelist America doesn’t know.” The publication of Leaving the World should no doubt change that.

If you read only one book this summer, make sure it’s Douglas Kennedy’s Leaving the World. This riveting, poignant page-turner explores how our childhoods affect the choices we make in life, how we make sense of life when tragedy strikes and the randomness of destiny. Kennedy dexterously combines a fast-paced plot with complex characters, provocative […]

Louisa May Alcott became famous for her well-loved classic, Little Women, but her success as an author did not happen overnight. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a bittersweet, stirring debut novel byKelly O’Connor McNees, explores the possibility that Alcott, who wrote so passionately about romantic relationships, did in fact have an affair of her own and that her success as a novelist came at a high price.

The novel was sparked by a quote from Julian Hawthorne, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne and neighbor of the Alcotts, who speculated that Alcott could not have written so compellingly about romantic love in her novels had she not experienced it herself. “Did she ever have a love affair?” Hawthorne asked. “We never knew. Yet how could a nature so imaginative, romantic and passionate escape it?” McNees speculates that Alcott burned many of her letters not only to protect her privacy, but to “erase all traces” of her love affair.

Deftly blending fact and fiction, McNees imagines an affair that could have taken place during the summer Alcott and her family spent in Wolcott, New Hampshire in 1855—one that would have threatened Alcott’s writing career and perhaps inspired the story of Jo and Laurie in Little Women.

Alcott’s father’s transcendentalist friends, Emerson and Thoreau, influenced her childhood, but his philosophical beliefs brought the family to the brink of financial ruin—motivating Alcott to earn a living as a writer and be free from her family’s financial struggles.

Alcott is initially unmoved by Joseph Singer, her fictional lover who owns a dry goods store in town, until he gives her a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Swept up in a passionate love affair once he makes his feelings clear, she discovers a devastating truth that may prevent the lovers from marrying. Soon after, Alcott makes a difficult choice that will forever change the course of the lovers’ lives.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott reverberates from a time when women’s options were few. Alcott’s yearning to be a writer and an independent woman made her an anomaly in her day, when the prospect of marriage to a man of means was considered de rigeur. Even if readers have never read Little Women, they will enjoy this historical novel—a compelling, heart-wrenching story about the difficult choices women face. It resonates with themes that are as timely today as they were in Alcott’s day.

 

RELATED CONTENT
Read our interview with Kelly O'Connor McNees about The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Read our review of Harriet Reisen's Louisa May Alcott biography

Watch the trailer for the novel

Louisa May Alcott became famous for her well-loved classic, Little Women, but her success as an author did not happen overnight. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a bittersweet, stirring debut novel byKelly O’Connor McNees, explores the possibility that Alcott, who wrote so passionately about romantic relationships, did in fact have an affair of […]

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