Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: a pretty clean read with some oblique references to violence
When Lucy Barton was a young mother living in New York in the 1980s, she developed a mysterious infection after an appendectomy, requiring a long hospital stay. Barton's mother, from whom she had been estranged, came to stay at the hospital with her daughter. That visit provides the central action for this spare book, in which the narrator looks back from the present to that moment and to the more distant past in order to help make sense of their relationship.
Of all the relationships I've known, the mother-daughter relationships in my life have been the most complicated. Now that I'm in my forties and have gone through the transitions from adulation to indignation to separation to judgment and finally, I hope to some grace in how I see my own mother, I'm starting to see the patterns repeat with my daughters. In this week that they spend together, Lucy seems to try to work on that reconciliation to peace with a mother whose way of life she escaped without ever wanting to look back.
My Name is Lucy Barton is a strange little book, without a lot of plot-driven action. It's the kind of book to read slowly, and I would say it's also the kind of book an author can only write when she has made it. The writing is spare, and often feels a little disjointed unless you do the work of making the connections with the narrator. I loved that Barton was an author herself, and her interactions with another established author provided some interesting conversations about creating character and narrative voice. But ultimately, this is a book about mothers and daughters, and learning to make peace with the place we come from, even if it's not a place we would have chosen on our own.