Monday, December 21, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Elizabeth Strout is an amazing writer. Olive Kitteridge, Abide with Me, The Burgess Boys—I loved them all. So, of course, I intended to read her latest book: My Name is Lucy Barton, due out in mid-January, 2016. Thanks to Netgalley, I got a sneak preview.

This is the story of Lucy Barton, a writer, who "came from nothing." Nothing refers to her economic situation: her family was dirt poor. It certainly does not refer to the wealth of her experience—painful isolation, the disdain of her classmates, the desperate escape into books and homework, as well as her utter lack of exposure to popular culture in her formative years. This cultural naivete left her bewildered when she ventured out into the larger world. But bravely she did venture out. She met and married a man who, for a while, she loved. And she had two daughters who became her world. From these experiences she found a story to tell.

But Lucy could not escape what she came from. She lacked the certainty that she had been loved by her mother and that confusion haunted her. Loneliness and insecurity followed wherever she went.

The book is centered on a two-month hospitalization that Lucy endured while still a young mother, courtesy of complications of acute appendicitis. For a period of five days, her mother visited and during this time, they talked.

The theme of much of her mother’s conversation was people they had known whose marriages were troubled or ended. Her mother was trying to tell her something without actually saying what she meant. From this visit and their conversations, Lucy came to understand her mother’s flawed but deep love.

Lucy did not go on to a happily-ever-after ending. Her life after her hospitalization was filled with life’s disappointments. A steady state of unhappiness pervades the novel. And yet, Lucy is able to see beauty in small moments and to appreciate kindness as it comes.

As always, Strout is able to create characters of astounding emotional depth. This is a quiet novel comprising vignettes of life that kept me glued to the pages. I found I could both pity and admire Lucy Barton.