Sunday, December 4, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout, the award winning author of Olive Kitteridge, brings a new persona to the world of contemplative literature. The reader is introduced to Lucy Barton as she relates the story of her stay of nine weeks in a hospital in New York City. She is suffering from malaise after an appendectomy. Lucy has two daughters and a husband who is horribly "hospital phobic."

Midway through her hospital stay her mother arrives from Illinois at the request of Lucy's husband. During her brief 5 day stay with her daughter from whom she has been estranged, stories are exchanged about the family, neighbors, and other acquaintances. The time her mother spends with her affords the reader an window into Lucy's life and, most especially, her relationship with her mother. Lucy is from a very poor and underprivileged background. Her family, consisting of her parents and brother and sister, live in an uncle's garage until the uncle died and they could move into the house. Abusive actions were not uncommon in the household that was void of books and television, and Lucy managed to leave and really not look back. 

Being set in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic shows how Lucy is compassionate and caring. We see her grief at the death of a friend and at breakup of her marriage. She struggles to find meaning in all phases of her life. But most of all, it's the relationship with her mother that is the crux of the story. Lucy has no recollection of her mother ever kissing her, nor has she ever heard her say "I love you." It is painful, but rings true, because that can be life. 

The novel is really a book within a book and to describe its intricacies would be difficult as well as simplistic. The writing is profound. What is not written, the silences are just as powerful. My Name is Lucy Barton is a novel of darkness and light - just like the light of the Chrysler Building that shines through Lucy's hospital window. Strout achieves literary success not with plot twists, but with characters that tug at your heart and emotions. Don't miss this small but powerful and poignant book.