I first heard about My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout, on Anne Bogel’s Podcast WSIRN. I read Strout’s novel, Olive Kitteridge, awhile ago and really enjoyed it. And just like Olive, I love Lucy! Strout chooses each word so carefully that the atmosphere she creates just keeps propelling this novel forward.
A young Lucy Barton is hospitalized when she is recovering from a viral infection after a surgery. Her estranged mother comes to the hospital for a visit her for five meaningful days. This visit is a welcomed surprise, as Lucy and her mother haven’t been in contact for a number of years. The tension is broken between the two when her mother shares gossip about their hometown, but there is still this overbearing, unspoken longing for Lucy to be loved. Lucy is unsure of her place in the world, and the person that she is within it. Her childhood was troubled, and the past keeps haunting her thoughts.
This novel is short, and oh so sweet. I devoured the pages, and the words! Although this novel has no real plot, Strout has the ability to make you want to learn more about this story and it’s characters. She has the ability to capture the extraordinary meaning to a normal life. And I just love that, it humanizes the characters and their daily rituals.
On the cover of this gorgeous little novel is the Chrysler building in New York City. Lucy’s hospital room looks right out at it, serving as this beacon of hope. She looks at it seeing it’s beauty, and then down at the sidewalk with the people hustling in their everyday life. It serves as a reminder for her to not take life for granted and to enjoy the ability to simply walk down the sidewalk.
One of the themes that really stuck out to me was the ability to love, and the longing for it to be reciprocated. Lucy had so much love for the people in her life, and all she wanted was for someone to give that love back to her. This whole novel I was just wishing that someone would love Lucy, and cover her up with a blanket, and tuck her into bed. Another theme throughout it is judgement. Lucy is so non-judgmental, and her mother, the exact opposite… very judgmental. The one line that really struck out to me is,
“I have said it before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to
another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all
the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are,
this need to find someone else to put down.”
Lastly, this novel is about the complexity of this mother/daughter relationship. Lucy’s mother cannot even muster up the courage to tell her sick daughter that she loves her, and this distresses Lucy quite a bit. This novel shows you that all a child really wants is to be loved, and to feel protected. But as Lucy never receives this, she is constantly searching for it.
I hope you enjoy my review on this small, but extremely powerful novel. “She is small, but fierce.” A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Shakespeare. It’s really a great read, and provokes a lot of thought. BUT, I will also say that if you are someone who absolutely needs a driving plot, or a plot that comes to a head… This may not be the novel for you.
Happy reading, friends!