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Lessons in Loss from Cruel Beautiful World


I love Caroline Leavitt’s novels. Not only are they very readable and filled with fully-rounded, memorable characters, but they also impart all of the wisdom of a good self-help book. Leavitt’s soon-to-be-released book, Cruel Beautiful World (available for pre-order), is a skilled observation of the interplay of grief, healing, and love. Below are some of the quotes that stayed with me, long after I’d finished the book, as well as the lessons I took from them.

You could plan all you wanted, but the world cracked open around you and it was all you could do to remember to breathe.

So often there’s a sense of guilt or shame associated with major loss. One wonders what they might have done to prevent somebody’s death, a miscarriage, an illness, or financial loss. But sometimes the world simply cracks open and bad things occur in spite of the best-laid plans.

Control wasn’t freedom. It didn’t protect anyone, not you or the ones you loved, and if anything, it kept you from living.

When one has experienced loss, one wants to make sure that nothing bad happens again, but too much control robs us of any potential for joy and gets in the way of our healing.

Sometimes you couldn’t fix things, you couldn’t make them better, and you had to live with that. It didn’t make you a bad person, the way she had thought. It made you human.

It’s human instinct to want to fix things and get back to one’s normal life as quickly as possible. This is why, in the face of tragedy, we hold fundraisers and erect monuments to feel as though we’re doing something useful. But often, loss can’t be fixed and feeling the need to fix the unfixable only adds to our guilt and shame.

He had read that the reason there were ghosts was that the living tethered them to life, that the dead lingered not because they needed closure but because the living did.

After loss, we often tether ourselves to the idea that we’ve lost the perfect love, perfect friendship, perfect job, or perfect health. But this tethering is the very thing that does not allow us to move forward. As Leavitt writes: “You’re chasing so many ghosts you’re in danger of becoming one.” We need to release the past fully in order to move forward.

While Cruel Beautiful World illustrates the power of grief and loss in our lives, it also shows the potential for beauty and joy. One of the characters fears that, “Maybe all you got from life was that one little sliver of brilliance, and the light from that happiness had to shine across your whole life.” But the book shows that’s simply not true. Where there is loss, there is healing, and grief can give way to joy. There is tremendous beauty in this cruel, beautiful world… if only we allow ourselves to find it.

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With an MBA in Finance, JEN LAWRENCE worked in investment banking; was Executive Director of a Children’s Museum and is a pioneer mommy blogger. Jen writes and speaks about women in business, critical thinking, strategic planning and is the author of Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team. When your world’s been blown apart, Jen Lawrence can help you pull yourself together, and pinpoint those next steps that will help you find your new normal. She can also be found at

12 thoughts on “Lessons in Loss from Cruel Beautiful World”

  1. Jen,
    I could have written each one of your red pull quotes, because I’ve lived them and know them to be true. In the end, no amount of control can prevent those things you fear. It just makes you fear them even more and when they happen… as cruel things do in this beautiful world… you’re left with an all consuming sense of betrayal. I now believe it’s God’s will, not ours, because control is a no-win game.

    • I think the hardest thing to learn – especially for can do types – is to surrender control. It’s something I struggle with. I’m trying to simply focus on the beauty instead of getting caught up by the cruel…

  2. I’ve added this to my reading list now, thanks Jen. It certainly sounds like a ‘must read’! Esther xx

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