Elizabeth Strout has a way of observing people and then writing about them that really appeals to me. She does not look at someone and see just the public face most people show. No way. Elizabeth Strout likes to find the little details, the subtleties and the intricacies that are usually under the surface. My Name Is Lucy Barton is a perfect example. She focuses on just two people and gives us an amazing story with just that. Here’s the story’s outline:
“Now, in My Name Is Lucy Barton, this extraordinary writer shows how a simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all—the one between mother and daughter.
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.” (from the publisher)
Elizabeth Strout, this extremely effective writer, pulled me in and immediately had me identifying with Lucy Barton. Here Lucy was, stuck in a hospital for weeks on end, missing her two little girls. No one was taking care of them like she could. Her husband, who hated hospitals, seldom visited. Lucy was becoming depressed. Finally, her husband sent for her estranged mother. It’s a good thing, because by the time her mother arrived, I was ready to go sit by Lucy Barton’s side myself. The poor thing.
The dialogue and interplay between Lucy and her mother was, for me, the heart of the novel. In just those conversations and Lucy’s inner dialogue I knew everything about Lucy’s background. My heart broke for her and I understood what motivated her.
I now consider Lucy Barton a friend. She does, finally, get out of the hospital, have a chance to raise her children and move on with her life. There are a few other people in the story such as Lucy’s wonderful doctor and her husband, but for me the heart of the story was wrapped up in that hospital visit with her mother.
I strongly recommend My Name Is Lucy Barton. It’s a fairly short novel (208 pages) and well worth reading just for the genius of Elizabeth Strout.