A Novel of Lost Daughters and Waylaid Lives

DAYS OF WONDER, by Caroline Leavitt

When the unfairness of life overwhelms you, does it bring out your grit and resolve, or send you down a rabbit hole of grievance and desperation?

Such is the crossroads facing three deeply damaged people in Caroline Leavitt’s 12th novel, “Days of Wonder”: Ella Fitchburg, newly released from prison after being convicted of trying to poison her wealthy boyfriend’s father; her teenage love, Jude, a victim of domestic abuse who’s lugging his own millstone of guilt; and Ella’s mother, Helen, who was cruelly cast out of her Hasidic Jewish community as a pregnant teenager.

Ella, too, is pregnant when she begins her 25-year sentence, but is pressed to give the baby girl up for adoption. Freed nearly two decades early thanks to a governor’s intervention, Ella, now 22, tracks down the child, who has been adopted and named Carla, and hastily moves from Brooklyn to Ann Arbor, Mich., to be close to her — without disclosing her real identity to her daughter’s new parents. A cross between Sylvia Plath’s sardonic Esther Greenwood and Allison McKenzie from “Peyton Place” (the Mia Farrow iteration), Ella mostly covets security and a bigger place in the world, clinging to a deluded dream of her, Jude, Carla and a life they can never have.

All along we feel Ella’s deep longing, her pain at having been so spectacularly cheated by life. Alas, that doesn’t prevent her from coming off as a creepy stalker: She hides in a back booth at the bar where her daughter’s new dad works, pops up like a disturbed jack-in-the-box to sneak cellphone pictures of Carla and anonymously leaves knitted mittens in the family mailbox.

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