The Story of Beautiful Girl, by Rachel Simon (New York: Hatchette Book Group, 2011)
"It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish in the institution. Deeply in love, they escape and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone -- Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness and Lynnie is caught. Before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: 'Hide her.'
"And so begins the forty-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia -- lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love."
"At the end of the night that would change everything, the widow stood on her porch and watched as the young woman was marched down her front drive and shoved into the sedan."
OK, this isn't saying much yet as it's not quite 4 weeks into the year, but this is certainly (sorry, Anita Diamant) my favorite book of 2012 so far. Recently, I heard someone say that what makes a book "literature" is that not everyone can read and understand it right away. If so, The Story of Beautiful Girl doesn't qualify, but it's still a beautiful book. Simon's language is lovely, and her characters endlessly fascinating. My favorite is definitely Lynnie, who's the "beautiful girl" of the title; Homan, who's not only deaf but never learned to read, and knows only an idiosyncratic sign language some deaf neighbors taught him as a child, refers to her this way for the entire story, though said references are mostly in his mind as (without spoiling too much) it takes the two, and Julia, a very long time to find one another again. Lynnie's experiences in The School are horrifying without being overly graphic or sensational, and the final chapters ... well, they made me cry. I'd have liked to see a bit more of Martha's and Julia's experiences over the years, but giving them as much time as, say, Lynnie or even Kate (one of the few, if not the only, decent staff members at the School, who remains close to Lynnie even after deinstitutionalization), would have made this a far longer and more complex book, and I suppose I can understand the author's not being quite up for that. Even so, I recommend this one highly.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.