Saturday, June 11, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton

I have written about Olive Kitteredge (blog dated April 29th, 2009) and The Burgess Boys (blog dated November 25th, 2013), both books by Strout that I liked. When her most recent book, My Name Is Lucy Barton, was chosen by one of my book groups I was happy to read it.

My Name Is Lucy Barton is a fascinating book, short but full of symbolism and depth.  The story is
told from twenty years later when in the 1980's, Lucy Barton, married and living in New York City with her husband and two young girls, went into the hospital for an appendectomy and ended up with a post-surgery infection that left her in the hospital for nine weeks. Her husband, apparently either unwilling or unable, to visit her regularly, without telling Lucy, called Lucy's mother to come.  Lucy and her mother had been estranged for years, so Lucy was quite surprised to wake up one morning in the hospital to find her mother sitting there. Their relationship had always been awkward, so conversation was stilted.  Lucy tried to make conversation by asking her mother about the small town they were from (Amgash, Illinois) and the people who lived there.

In very short chapters, Lucy's life story is told, or at least implied.  The family had been impoverished and isolated, which was conducive to many secrets in the family. Through-out childhood, Lucy longed to hear her mother tell her that she loved her. And even while Lucy was in the hospital as an adult, she sought those words from her mother, but her mother couldn't say them.  And the source of the estrangement was never discussed between them. Her mother stayed for five days, never leaving Lucy's room.

The next time Lucy saw her mother was nine years later, when her mother was dying and Lucy flew to Chicago to see her in the hospital.On the second evening that Lucy was there, her mother told her "I need you to leave."  meaning for Lucy to go back to New York.

"I could not keep walking.  I backed up without turning around.  'Mommy, I love you!' I called out.  I was facing the hallway, but her bed was the closest to me, and she would have heard me, I am sure.  I waited.  There was no answer, no sound.  I tell myself she heard me.  I tell myself-I've told myself-this many times."

Strout's writing about the following year, when Lucy goes back home because her father was dying is incredibly powerful.

This is such a well-written story about mother-daughter relationships, including with Lucy and her two daughters, her neighbor Jeremy, and the events of the 80's in New York, including the AIDS epidemic.  I continue to be a huge fan of Elizabeth Strout!

No comments: