Cruel Beautiful World: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt does so many things right that I couldn’t possibly list them all. It is the story is about a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with her English teacher, who promptly whisks her off to live in a falling down house in the middle of nowhere, with no access to friends and family.
This is a book about a man who abuses a woman. The abuse doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, he slowly grooms her over time. The author did an exceptional job answering the question ignorant people often ask about abusive relationships: “But why didn’t they just leave?!” It’s not that simple and this entire novel slowly and thoroughly answers that question.
Another thing I really appreciated about this book was the very tender and sensual sex scene between two elderly people. Old folks are sexual beings too, and this is something that’s generally not mentioned at all in fiction and when it is authors generally sort of sweep past it with a few sweet words about those adorable old folks! This scene was about the sensual, erotic nature of sex at any age and avoided falling back on the cloying sweetness. This is a rarity in fiction and was greatly appreciated.
Obviously, the subject matter here is difficult. It’s hard to follow these characters as they get deeper and deeper into terrible situations. But it also made me rethink how I view loss and memory and a whole host of other things. I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s willing and / or interested in getting out of their comfort zone to consider difficult situations from a new perspective.
P.S. I received a free galley copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.