My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

Review (Amazon): 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.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: blah

Yes, that is two “blahs” in a row. Not great. This book is our literary fiction book for the year, and it might actually just be that I don’t really like literary fiction. On the plus side, this is a very quick read. I just happened to really dislike Lucy Barton.

As you probably figured out, the main character is a woman named Lucy Barton who is presumably in her early 30s. She lives in New York City and is married with two children. For some unknown reason she is in the hospital and has been for a little while when her mother arrives.

Lucy and her family (mom, dad, brother, sister) grew up very poor. Lucy’s mom did sewing and alterations and her dad, who had PTSD (although this wasn’t described in extensive detail) wasn’t able to hold a steady job. They had no TV and little climate control. Lucy would stay at school late to take advantage of the heat and space and did very well–well enough to go to college.

She ended up getting married to what seemed like a upper middle class husband and basically spent her entire life in complete denial of where she ended up. It was like mentally she couldn’t believe where she was and seemed somewhat intent on sabotaging it. She was separated from the rest of her family mostly due to the vast difference in their current statuses so it was a surprise that her husband (who doesn’t come to see her much because he hates hospitals) called her mother to come see her.

When her mother arrives, Lucy interacts with her through gossip and stories about people who they used to know. When she tries to bring up painful childhood memories, her mother moves on without addressing them or she simply just cannot remember what Lucy is talking about. However through these stories we learn a slight bit more about Lucy and her life. She wants to be a writer, attending writing workshops with an author she loves. She also has basically only one friend in New York City, an older gay man named Jeremy who ended up dying of AIDS while she was in the hospital.

Eventually Lucy gets out of the hospital from whatever mysterious illness she had. She still doesn’t keep in touch with her mother because she is busy with her own life and children and her best-selling novel (but also mostly just because she doesn’t really want to). She only visits her 9 years later when her mother is dying. She sees her father there as well, and he dies the following year. When Lucy’s children go off to college, she and her husband end up getting divorced. Lucy ends up getting married to a man who also grew up in poverty but now is a cellist in the Philharmonic Symphony.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

This book was not for me. If it had been any longer, I would have not made it through it. It was challenging to even write a review for it because literally nothing happened. I probably could have summed it up in about 3 sentences. When we discussed it at book club, we didn’t really seem to be able to answer any questions because the story was just so vague and focused on a bunch of trivial stories instead of anything important. Although, maybe that is the point? I don’t know.

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Filed under 2.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review

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