The Five Star Friday recommendation this week is My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. This had been on my ‘to be read’ list for nearly a year; and knowing it is the seed to her new best-selling novel Anything is Possible, I knew it was time.
Publisher Summary: 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.
As I came to the end of My name is Lucy Barton, it was easy to see why it was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. In addition, if you were fans of Olive Kitteridge or The Burgess Boys, you will not be disappointed.
Strout is a superior writer whose concise prose makes manifest the isolation and disconnection that exists in relationships and between communities and social classes.
As Claire Messud wrote in her New York Times review, “Lucy Barton’s story is, in meaningful ways, about loneliness, about an individual’s isolation when her past — all that has formed her — is invisible and incommunicable to those around her. …she endured a childhood of hardship, shunned even by her Amgash classmates, living in a world incomprehensible to her adult friends in New York. Not only did the family have little heat and little food, they had no books, no magazines and no TV: There was a lot for Lucy to catch up on. Hers is also, though, a simple love story, about a girl’s unquestioning, almost animal love for her mother, and her mother’s love in return; about how what is invisible and incommunicable is not only what isolates but also what binds.“
When I was teaching poetry to 5th and 6th grade students, I came across a form I had not been aware of – concrete poetry. The words are on the page in a shape and the shape is related to the content of the poem. For example, the lines of a poem about a house or home would be written as a rectangle with a triangular roof. To me, Strout’s prose in My name is Lucy Barton and her selective use of words and phrases perfectly project meaning. For example when writing about the doctor that tends to Lucy in the hospital, Strout describes how he took her temperature by touching the back of his hand to her forehead and checking her pulse with his fingers. Strout writes: And I thought then, and I think now, still, of the phrase “the laying on of hands.”
My name is Lucy Barton will not leave you feeling abandoned or isolated but bolstered by the knowledge that there is beauty in the world and in literature.
Happy reading, Susan C.
Also by Strout:
Anything is Possible: Here are two sisters, one trades self-respect for a wealthy husband while the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. The janitor at the local school has his faith tested in an encounter with an isolated man he has come to help; a grown daughter longs for love from her mother; and the adult Lucy Barton, returns to visit her siblings after seventeen years of absence.
The Burgess Boys Catalyzed by a nephew’s thoughtless prank, a pair of brothers confront painful psychological issues surrounding the freak accident that killed their father when they were boys, a loss linked to a heartbreaking deception that shaped their personal and professional lives.
Olive Kitteridge Thirteen tales–linked by the overarching presence of brusque junior high math teacher Olive Kitteridge– present a portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection.
Abide With Me After the tragic death of his young wife, Reverend Tyler Caskey, a New England minister, struggles to hold together his own life, his family, and his town, while dealing with his personal anger, grief, and loss of faith.