not-so-swept Away

I’ve seen the book Away by Amy Bloom many times on my frequent trips to various book stores (I notice the book because one of my favorite books is also called Away, written by Jane Urquhart) but I finally picked it up at Powell’s for $5 after reading the back (it said the heroine treks from New York to Alaska – gotta go w/the Alaska book).  This is my first book by Bloom.

Away is the story of Lillian Lyeb, a Jewish survivor of the pogroms during the Russian Civil War in the early 1900s. Her entire family is killed in front of her, including (she believes) her young daughter.  She does what she must to get by as an immigrant in New York until a cousin comes to convince her that her daughter is still alive in Russia. Lillian discovers just how bad things can really get when she tries to arrange a trip back to Russia to find her daughter.  Everyone thinks she’s crazy, and the things she has to do to get anywhere are far from pleasant.

This is not a happy book.  The writing is vivid and the plot moves along nicely, but in the end, I wondered what the point was.  Lillian has gone through horrific experiences – which we live along with her – and in the end she gives up on the only goal – beyond survival – she ever had for no apparent reason other than exhaustion and the bird in the hand.   I am a huge fan of the non-linear plot line, the lack of closure, the virtually plotless novel, the unhappy ending, and just about any other post-modern format or device out there.  But a lack of plot closure should not make a pointless novel.  She almost kills herself several times to get to Russia, and then just… stops in Alaska.

Am I supposed to assume that, because she found a man she cares for – I think love is too strong a word – that Lillian doesn’t need to even find out if her daughter is alive and safe anymore?  That cannot be it.  Maybe I’m supposed to believe that – because there is serious doubt that the cousin was even telling the truth about the child, that Lillian just quits when she finally finds a place she can be even a little happy? That one sucks, too. The reader finds out that the daughter is indeed alive and safe with a different family, but Lillian never does.  I’m sorry, but that SUCKS as an ending.  And it’s not even a ‘hey, I’m never going to get there, I’m never going to know, so I must try to live my life but I’ll always wonder’ kind of ending.  It’s more like ‘I worked and walked and did terribly things and walked some more and froze and starved and now… I think I’ll stop here, after I’ve crossed the entire North American continent and am almost to Siberia.’  Not cool.  I feel like I’ve suffered along with her, and for nothing.

Also – and I know this is totally nit-picky, but I can’t stand it when writers get the details wrong – moose do not run in packs.  Ever.  10 moose traveling together?  Not happening.

I will probably give Ms. Bloom another shot, because the writing was indeed enjoyable.  And I don’t need a happy ending, just an ending that doesn’t make me regret finishing the book.

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