One of my favorite things to do on WKAR is talk about new books that really impress me. Some like to believe book reviewers get more pleasure out of negative reviews, but that has never been the case for me. So today was a highpoint for me as I take on My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.
You can listen to my review here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-elizabeth-strout-s-my-name-lucy-barton
If you would rather read my review, you can do so below.
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Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
I want you to meet Lucy Barton. She is a writer, she lives in New York City, and she has a wonderful sense of quiet optimism. Lucy often gets lost in people watching, taking note of the eccentrics she encounters and remembering each one. She also happens to be the main character in Pulitzer-prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s new work of literary fiction, My Name is Lucy Barton.
Most of this fascinating novel takes place in the 1980s while Lucy is stuck in a hospital for over nine weeks. What should have been an easy operation to have her appendix taken out becomes more serious when Lucky comes down with a mysterious virus. Her husband can’t visit often because they have two small children. And so Lucy’s estranged mother is flown in to keep her company. After five years of not talking, Lucy and her mother start rebuilding a relationship in the confines of her hospital room.
To understand Lucy, you have to first understand her family. She grew up in severe poverty and her parents struggled to make ends meet. Lucy, unlike her siblings, makes it out of that life. She becomes the first in her family to attend college and goes on to have a successful career and family life. Most parents and siblings would celebrate those accomplishments. But not Lucy’s family. Her sister, for example, is jealous of her happiness. Even her parents seem to hold a grudge against her. They show little interest in her husband, her children, or the life she has made for herself in the Big Apple. Most of us would feel bitter about that, but not Lucy.
Instead, she dreams of mending the ties with her family. It doesn’t seem to matter how little they want to do with her. The moments Lucy and her mom share at the hospital are like the meeting of two very different worlds They struggle to find something from their past still connecting them. They share stories and gossip about people from the hometown. Lucy can’t stop saying how much she loves her mom. But her mom can’t even imagine saying those words aloud. Finally, she promises Lucy she will only say them to her after she goes to sleep.
One of the things I found so impressive about this novel is the voice Strout uses to capture Lucy’s personality. It is so personal and conversational. Sometimes Lucy will stop and correct herself in the middle of a thought. It’s more than Lucy telling you a story, it’s her sharing her life with you. My Name is Lucy Barton is a book meant to be read aloud. I could even see it as a one-woman show. If that ever happens, I’ll be one of the people leading the standing ovation at the curtain call.
Lucy’s life is not a fairy tale. It has plenty of sadness and disappointment. Yet, she maintains her sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around her. I walked away from the book wishing I could see the world as Lucy does. And maybe if we all could from time to time, this planet would be a little kinder place to be.
My latest novel Permanent Spring Showers was just published by 5 Prince Books. You can find out more about my novel as well as my other books (including A Jane Austen Daydream and My Problem With Doors) and grab a copy via my author page on Amazon.com here.