Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
January 2016 Penguin Random House
What a beautiful and spare book. This latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Strout knocked me off my chair!
When a woman goes into the hospital for a long stay to combat an illness the doctors cannot pinpoint, she is separated from the family she has built: her husband and children continue with their lives while her life stays in limbo.
In this strange, liminal space between the healthy world and the world that tends to sickness, Lucy considers her life. She records it in a memoir or journal; we’re never quite sure whether what we’re reading is intended for publication or if she will hold these thoughts only for herself.
And the review intermingles her childhood under an uncaring and sometimes cruel mother and father with the family she has built. We discover early on that the friend who brings her children to visit will eventually be the woman her husband selects. He, meanwhile, doesn’t visit her at the hospital, another form of cruelty and neglect she grapples with during these months.
At some point, her mother quite unexpectedly appears for a visit. For five days, her mother sits next to her hospital bed, always refusing the cot the nurses offer to sleep sitting up on the chair. It is a mournful waiting, much like a wake, and brings things to the surface that Lucy has never faced.
She faces them now but not through clashes with her mother. Instead she considers them carefully, shifting between a criticism of her own writing through what she learned during a writing workshop and how the author who conducted the workshop responded to her work and that of others.
By the time she leaves the hospital, Lucy has lost quite a bit. But she has found herself.
Truly a touching and quiet novel that you’ll speed through…and think about long after turning the last page.
For another contemporary novel about family relationships, try The Family Made of Dust.
I received an ARC from the publisher so that I could write this review.