Caroline Leavitt: The Courage to Leave

Caroline Leavitt's new novel, Cruel Beautiful World (Algonquin), is, according to our review (see it below), an astute family drama with "the heart-pounding moments of a thriller and the heart-warming moments of a perfect coming-of-age story." Leavitt lives in Hoboken, N.J., with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and acting student son, Max.

We asked Leavitt if there is a backstory to Cruel Beautiful World. She said, "When I was 17, I sat behind a girl in high school who had a 30-year-old, controlling fiancé. When she broke up with him, he stabbed her 45 times. I was haunted. I wanted to write her story, but I couldn't understand how she could have stayed. Not then.

"Fast-forward 10 years. My fiancé had died suddenly, and to escape the cataclysmic grief I hurled myself into a relationship. My new boyfriend monitored what I ate until I weighed 95 pounds. He didn't want me to see friends and he read my e-mails. Why did I stay? Because the alternative--grieving--was worse. But then, thinking back on my friend's story, it gave me courage to leave.

"People tend to think that abuse is always physical, that people punch or scream. I wanted to show how insidious it really could be. I lived in a gorgeous Upper West Side apartment with this man. We went out and did a lot of things. But hearing vile criticisms and orders in such a soft, kind voice over and over made me doubt my own sanity and wonder if he were right. And that scared me."

Leavitt hopes her book will tell people that some things can be prevented. "I want them to speak up. Since the galleys have been out, I've received e-mails from people who told me that they, too, had been in relationships with verbal abuse. Just because it's quiet does not mean it isn't damaging. I found the courage to leave, and I know others can, too." --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

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