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My Name is Lucy Barton

March 4, 2017

“I have said 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.”
― Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton

 

4****

This was my first book by Strout, though I had noticed her name floating about for years. I think I avoided her work because I believed her books were along the lines of Joyce Carol Oates, whose genius sadly eludes me. My Name is Lucy Barton is a short book and really not much happens, but Strout writes her characters with a tenderness I was not expecting and it made me feel I wanted more. Her language is elegant and her observations apt, reminding me a little of one of my favorite authors, Elena Ferrante. The story focuses on Lucy Barton, who reconnects with her mother while in the hospital. She and her mother have always had a strange relationship, and yet it is clear, in their own way they love each other. This is a very nuanced and quite melancholy story, much more about subtleties and context than the plot. I wonder whether all of Strout's books are like this? The book is about the way relationships change over time, what people need from those they love,  how binding the love between family can be, even when circumstances are anything but simple; it is abut individual identity and what factors shape it, from childhood to adulthood. These are some heavy topics for a book just shy of 200 pages, and while I think Strout handled them elegantly and very ably, I was left a tiny bit dissatisfied at the slightly rushed feel of the ending, when the rest of the book was told to carefully, almost languidly. I wish the book were a little longer, really a compliment in itself:-) Any recommendations which of her books to try next?

Tags: Books

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