My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout My Name is Lucy Barton was something I picked on a
whim off the library shelf. I have not read her other works, namely Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer
prize. The story is set up almost as vignettes that bounce back and forth
between the past, the “present”, and then the “present” turns into past
reflection. It is a book about memories—and possibly mistakes.
I say possibly as I don’t want to rob it of broader
themes. A daughter, bedridden in a hospital with an unknown ailment, becomes
the basis for her mother’s unexpected arrival. And, for 5 days the mother sits
vigil and the two begin to revisit the past. A complicated one, but nothing out
of the ordinary. There is no GREAT revelation; this is no The Glass Castle
(Jeannette Walls). We have here in a fairly slim volume, the story of a family
making ends meet in rural Illinois. We also have the story of the families
around this family, the surrounding community. It is a book about marriages and
desires, and what keep people together. The ties that bind.
What I want to emphasize is how “real” the narrative
feels. Maybe it is my Midwestern sensibility, but the language resounds, to my
ear, as authentic. Also the suppressed “niceness” (when the whole time people
are judging you)—you can almost feel the chokehold.
The daughter’s own marriage may or may not be on the
rocks. We never know why exactly she needs to be hospitalized for 5 weeks. I
suspect depression. There is more than physical fragility here; there is mental
exhaustion as well.
Growing up, my mother used to have these confessional
talks with me such as the mother and daughter in the novel. Where Mom would
confide under her breath about someone’s failings, their sins, how they “run
off,” or had a black boyfriend, or was a secret drinker. Maybe the husband beat
the wife or the son was known to wear his mother’s clothes at times. Families
and small towns are full of such stories. The point is: for one second I felt
close to Mommy—she was a friend in arms, rather than the undependable, moody
mom I was used to. It was as if I could trust her.
And when the mom leaves to return home, nothing much
has changed. My Name is Lucy Barton is about a moment in time, a moment of
flashback and recall, without nostalgia. Looking back does not re-vision the
past. It was hard then, it is hard now. There weren’t any answers, there aren’t
any answers now. It took me all of one morning to consume this novel, a slice