My Name Is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A short novel, not even as long as its 191 pages would suggest. It is told in the first person voice of the Lucy Barton of the title. Growing up in a very poor, somewhat ostracized, social excluded rural family, she finds her escape route through education finally becoming a New York based writer.
This conversationally toned story is based round her extended stay as an adult in hospital following a post operative infection during which her long not seen mother visits. In her way her mother loves her, but I have to say I found their relationship weird to say the least, certainly nothing like my experience of mothers. I couldn't relate to any of her familial relationships. She sees adrift in the city without much in the way of solid relationships. I didn't actually like Lucy. She repeats herself a lot, she is vague where I wanted her to be precise - both in terms of things she mentions has having seen, which are no doubt real, but she doesn't name them, so the reader either just goes with the flow or heads of to Google the place, the person eg she talks about a sculpture, she meets an author Sarah Payne - I still have no idea why as a writer she used a named real author - maybe Payne is more famous in the US, but not here.
The dysfunctionality of her birth family, mother, father, siblings strings out throughout the book and tumbles over into a dysfunctional marriage family which with the only show of gumption - ruthlessness as she calls it - in the whole book she leaves, but again the read doesn't really know why. So she is and the book is unsatisfactory because its so vague. Yes I understand she didn't want to write about abuse - how often has that been done - but her childhood trauma, being stuck in the van with the snake - real, imagined or metaphorical - only puts me into the pragmatic, down to earth mother's voice - Silly girl!
Near the end of the novel she writes "I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can't even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine." For me this sums up this book and what the author has achieved in writing this story, and shows how the horros and deprivations of childhood impact the manner of adult lives. As her charcter says in the book So sad, so sad.
ashramblings verdict 3*
I read this prior to reading the short story collection Anything Is Possible
with my face to face book group. I know several friends who have recommended her writing to me, but this didn't exactly 'blow me away' more likely to be like the cheese her character's college room mate gets from her mother, will not throw it away, but doesn't want or like, so leaves it on the window ledge to overwinter. Let's see how aromatic the novel is after a period of 'maturation' and as an intro to her short stories.