Elizabeth Strout

Book Review


This story, My Name is Lucy Barton, written by Elizabeth Strout, ©October 2016, has several time-braids in it.

  • We see Lucy as a young girl living with her family in an uncle’s garage, and after he dies, in his small home, and learning at school that she is different, shunned, because a life of poverty doesn’t teach social skills.
  • We see Lucy in the hospital in New York, a young married woman and mother, needing an extended stay after a routine surgery and the relationship that exists between her and Mom.
  • We see bits of Lucy as a newly married, adjusting to life in New York, and developing the odd friendships that she’s able to manage.
  • We see allusions to issues of abuse and neglect, family dysfunction and loneliness.
  • And we see references to Lucy’s future self, a published author, from which this story is told.

It’s a slender book, a complex story that in some ways remains elusive. There is direct naming and there is that which is not said, which is not spoken

But there are times, too--unexpected--when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not,

The book stirred feelings in me: curiosity first, wondering if this author could keep my interest. Then gradually, I was caught up in Lucy’s life. Sometimes I would be deeply immersed in Lucy’s point-of-view and then other times the camera lens backed away and distanced itself from knowing Lucy too completely.

The focus of the story is Lucy’s relationship with Mom. We read of tenderness, of half-asked questions, and we witness love in all its faultiness expressed through human limitations.