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Early Leaving: A Novel Hardcover – September 21, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A mother goes to great lengths to defend her son in this slow-going, sentimental domestic tale with a racial spin. On the same night white student Early Smallwood delivers his high school’s commencement address, he shoots and kills a young black man in Charlotte, N.C., in 1987. His mother, first-person narrator Kathryne Smallwood, a movie critic for a local magazine and wife to a successful lawyer, Peter, proceeds to recount in exhaustive detail Early’s development from adored, overindulged only child and model pupil to accomplice to his delinquent childhood friend, Chip. Despite Kathryne’s anguished self-searching, however, there’s no convincing explanation for the valedictorian’s transformation into a murderer save that Early was in the wrong place in bad company. Poet and novelist Goldman (The Slow Way Back) strives to engage with complex racial questions, but her protagonist’s moral struggles are one-dimensional and dated as she struggles to reconcile her liberal self-image with her son’s act. At novel’s end, the Smallwoods remain bewildered by the changes around them, with Kathryne still wondering how she ended up "on the wrong side of a race issue." All too convincing as a study in self-delusion, this is too deliberate and uninflected to satisfy as fiction.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Increasing incidents of school killings and growing numbers of adolescent murderers have spawned a new theme for novelists: the introspective probe into possible societal and familial causes. Goldman's second novel dissects one seemingly perfect family: father Peter, a successful attorney; mother and narrator Kathryne, a movie reviewer; and son Early, valedictorian at his prestigious private school. Early is arrested for murder the morning after graduation. Kathryne begins to scrutinize how she and Peter erred. Was it her fault for being the spoiling parent? Or was Peter the culprit, for withdrawing from parenting? She blames Early's friendship with a dominating underachiever; she blames herself for ignoring the pot in the glove compartment and the beer in the trunk. Or was the murder just a tragic ramification of a drug deal gone awry? Either way, Goldman's brutally honest dramatization of a dysfunctional family makes provocative reading. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (September 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060594586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060594589
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,476,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Judy Goldman's fifth book, Losing My Sister, a memoir, will be published October 1, 2012. An excerpt from her memoir appeared in Real Simple Magazine. She's the author of two novels, Early Leaving and The Slow Way Back, which won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction, the Mary Ruffin Poole Award for Best First Work of Fiction, and was a finalist for the Southeast Booksellers Association's Best Novel of 2000.

Her two books of poetry are Holding Back Winter and Wanting To Know the End, winner of the Gerald Cable Poetry Award and the three top poetry prizes awarded in North Carolina.

Her book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and The Charlotte Observer, and her commentaries have aired on public radio. Her work has been published in many literary journals, such as Kenyon Review, Southern Review, Ohio Review, Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and in numerous anthologies. She received the Fortner Writer and Community Award for "outstanding generosity to other writers and the larger community" and the Hobson Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Arts and Letters.

Born and raised in Rock Hill, SC, she lives in Charlotte, NC. She and her husband have two married children, three granddaughters and a grandson.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By MPB on November 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A friend gave me "Early Leaving" after she met Judy Goldman, the author, and I still can't stop thinking about this novel that to me is reminiscent of "Unless" by the late Carol Shields, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

The first page of "Early Leaving" drew me in and I could not stop reading. Within a few paragraphs, the reader learns that a young man named Early will be sentenced the next day for a murder he committed hours after he was the graduation speaker at his prep school. Most of the rest of the book is about his life up to this point, and the final bit goes beyond the sentencing.

How did this young man, who is idealized by his mother, end up killing someone?

The story is told by his mother, who believes her son to be pure in his soul, almost without fault, although she wishes he would disassociate himself from his best friend; she thinks her husband pushes Early too much to achieve. Appearances matter greatly.

Goldman does not spoon feed her readers. She leaves us to draw our own conculusions about what's really going on, as Shields did during so much of "Unless," when a mother could not understand why her eldest daughter sat for months, without speaking, on a corner in Toronto, the word "Goodness" on a sign around her neck.

In "Early Leaving," you wonder what the father is really like and how he sees their son. What is Early really doing when his mother sees him as a young boy cradling a bird in his hand. Is he being gentle, as his mother views the scene, or has he killed the bird? What does Early think and feel about the pressures at home, and just how much frustration and anger is he holding inside?
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Webster on February 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I am a new, first-time mom and I am so glad I carved out the time to read Early Leaving. This wonderful yet chilling book should be required reading for all parents. Once I got into it (on page one), I couldn't put it down.

Judy Goldman, in her graceful, poetic style, has created a world I feel I could easily stray into while raising my child(ren). This world features a mother who loves her son so much she does everything she can to keep every aspect of his life happy and trouble-free. We are trained to do this with our infants; how do we learn to put on the brakes once our children are older? With that question in mind I feel it would have been predictable for Goldman to write about an overindulgent, overprotective mother who singlehandedly dooms her child to a lifetime on the psychologist's couch. Instead, she shows us how complicated, entwining and unpredictable families and child-rearing can be. Kathryne's relationship with her husband Peter; Peter's relationship with their child Early; Early's relationship with his best friend Chip. Each of these bonds (and more) exert influence in the formation of a person. None is the sole cause of who a person becomes, and yet none is innocent.

Judy Goldman is a wise guide helping us navigate the complex emotional story Kathryne narrates. Rather than settle for easy answers, Goldman poses thoughtful questions to the end. This is why I believe all parents should read this book (and why I have already recommended it to all the young parents I know). We are given the opportunity to study another family's life under a microscope, thus providing us with a mirror or a foil for our own decisions.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R.A. James on January 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Ask any parent to list their greatest fears for their children, and seeing a child carted off to jail for murder is probably not one of them. That is for good reason -- while most of us realize that there may be aspects of how we parent that may be flawed, overall we are optimistic about how our children will turn out. And we are honestly surprised if and when things go wrong. This novel does a wonderful job of taking that scenario -- a son on a bright, upward path who stumbles into tragedy -- and explores what brought him to that point. Goldman sorts through Early's upbringing and family ties, and holds up various bits and pieces for our collective review -- some we can discard, some we are not sure about, and others may reverberate powerfully. But it is no easy task to simply assign blame or grant forgiveness. This book shies away from easy lessons. We are instead encouraged to look beyond the parent-child relationship and pay closer attention to the parent-parent-child one. It should be on all of our reading lists.
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Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. Although it is not an uplifting story, I could really relate to Kathyrne and saw a lot of myself in her. I was a lot like her when raising my 25 yr old daughter - no matter what she did wrong, I rationalized it learning too late that she really was in trouble. As I now have 5 year old twin boys, this book really made me think long and hard about my parenting skills! I highly recommend it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pat on November 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I thought, given the premise of this book, that it would reveal more about the character of Early. The reader knows all there is to know about his mother, her background, her marriage and her parenting skills. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that Early was a remarkably good student and apparently considered to be a steadying influence by his peers. There were too many "dead ends" in this book for me - the letter written by Early with gay incidents is one; another is why the father was so uninvolved. I was disappointed in this book.
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