Published by Random House Publishing Group January 2016
Source: my ecopy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.
I met Elizabeth Strout, as most of you did, when I read Olive Kitteridge (my review). I think it's one of the best examples of how to get readers to connect with an unlikable character. It is a book that has stuck with me, one I recommend to everyone. Five years later, I jumped at the chance to read Strout's next book, The Burgess Boys (my review ). Hhmmm, it sort of seems like I forgot to write the rest of this review, which tells me something about the way I felt about this book. But I did love that Strout took on a big issue and I still liked her writing.
Here, Strout has cut way, way back. Not in any way to suggest that there is not a lot here to consider but Strout has managed to say it in the fewest words possible and in the things that are left unsaid.
"Telling a lie and wasting food were always things to be punished for. Otherwise, on occasion and without warning, my parents - and it was usually my mother and usually in the presence of our father - struck us impusively and vigorously, as I think some people may have suspected by our splotchy skin and sullen dispositions.
And there was isolation."The Bartons were desperately poor, an excuse for them to be ostracized in Amgash on it's own. But there was much more going on in the Barton household and it isolated the family both literally and figuratively - "Lonely was the first flavor I tasted in my life." Strout gives readers only brief glimpses into the past but it's enough to understand Lucy's pain as an adult, the choices she makes, and the disconnect she feels from her family. More importantly, Strout also makes readers understand why someone who has suffered, as Lucy has suffered, still longs for a connection with a mother she can't help but love.
It may well be time for my book club to read another book by Elizabeth Strout; there is a wealth of things to discuss in My Name Is Lucy Barton, a wealth of things to think about it. It is a book that will stay with me.