(Reviewed by Kam Aures MAR 31, 2003)
"On June 19, 1959, Ruby Washington traveled through Texas on a bus from Norma, South Carolina, to Oakland, California, with her thirteen-year old half brother, Love Easton Childers."
Richard Dry tells the story of three generations of Ruby's family from this point on. Each chapter of the book focuses on one of three different generations. The first chapter starts out in 1959 with a pregnant Ruby and her brother Easton arriving in California to start a new life away from the violence they endured in South Carolina. They stay with Ruby's father Corbet and his "friend," Saul Rubenstein. The second chapter, Chapter 1B, picks up in 1973 and focuses on Ruby's daughter Lida and her boyfriend Marcus Leroy. The third generation is introduced in Chapter 1C which starts in 1993 and centers on Lida's children, Love E (Ronald Love Leroy) and Li'l Pit (Paul LeRoy). The rest of the book continues on in this fashion with each chapter focusing on a different generation. After every couple of chapters there is a chapter titled "Santa Rita Jail," in which an unnamed man reads to us from various African-American historical texts such as "Life of Gustavus Vassa, the African," and "From Plantation to Ghetto: An Interpretive History of American Negroes." These readings help us to tie Ruby's family story in with broader historical events of the African-American people.
As the story unfolds, Love Easton gets involved in the civil rights movement through which he meets and dates a white girl named Sandra. Lida, sexually abused by Love Easton as a child, turns to heroin and ends up living on the streets abandoning her children. By the 1990's, the neighborhood in which Ruby lives has taken a turn for the worse and it is not a very good place to raise children. The chapters focusing on Love E and Li'l Pit's generation (Ruby's grandchildren), to me seemed to be the most detailed and engaging sections of the novel. Love E and Li'l Pit become involved with gangs in their neighborhood. There are detailed accounts of how Love E feels fear, but has to disguise it and take on the "tough guy" attitude. He tries to dissuade Li'l Pit from the gang life, but Li'l Pit wants in on the action and tries to be like his big brother. Ruby ends up sending them away to South Carolina to try to save them from the destruction that this environment can cause.
Leaving is a definite page-turner. I wanted to find out what happened in the years between and how the characters ended up in their current situations. To make the generational transitions throughout the book less confusing, Richard Dry heads each chapter with the years and ages of the characters. For instance, Chapter 15 is headed with: "January 1994 - Ruby 56, Love 14, Li'l Pit 10." There is also a family tree in the front of the book, which I found myself referring to quite a bit in the beginning just to keep everyone straight. While I did enjoy the different format of the book, it makes it a book that you really have to concentrate on; it is not a "quick read." I do not recommend starting this book unless you are able to read from it at least every day because it is necessary for you to pay very close attention to detail and some of these details may be lost from time away. However, Leaving is definitely worth the attention that it requires and I am truly looking forward to more from Richard Dry.
- Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Leaving (March 2002)
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- Reading Guide for Leaving
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About the Author:
Richard Dry is an English instructor for the Las Positas-Chabot Community College District and a former Mental Health Assistant working with emotionally disturbed youth. This novel won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation and Intersection for the Arts and was nominated for the Pushcart editors' Prize. It was also chosen as a Barnes & Noble Selection for Great New Writers in Spring 2002.
Richard Dry lives with his wife in California.