Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout, the author of My Name is Lucy Barton also wrote Olive Kitteridge--winner of a Pulitzer prize for fiction.  Olive Kitteridge is a masterpiece. My Name is Lucy Barton is not quite as good but still a wonderful read and a book I strongly recommend.

In the last page of Olive Kitteridge, Olive, a widow, thinks of a fledgling relationship she is considering. She likens it to "pressing two pieces of Swiss Cheese together", that each person would bring "holes" with them to any union, holes representing the pieces "that life took out of you."

How we live with the holes in our being that life has "taken out" is in essence what My Name is Lucy Barton is about.

The character Lucy Barton is the narrator of the story.  She has to spend several weeks in a hospital recovering from a complication related to an appendectomy.  While hospitalized she is visited by her mother whom she had not seen in many years. In conversations with her mother and flashbacks we learn about Lucy's family and the holes in her heart.

All of us have been bruised along the way, some of us have had families that were bruise making machines. I have had my share of bumps but as family issues go I think I caught a big break. Lucy did not and many readers will be able to identify with her.  You may not be a small town farm girl, and your mother, father, sister, and brother of a different ilk completely, but you will likely be able to identify with Lucy Barton.

This is an easy book to read.  The writing is engaging, the chapters are short, and some pages are only half pages.  A lot of book in less than 200 pages.

There is only one thing about which I can quibble. We find out that Lucy has become a successful author. Yet the book is deliberately written (told as if it is written by Lucy) amateurishly.  Lucy, before she became famous as a writer, took a class on writing.  This book reads like one someone might have written who was just starting out--perhaps after having taken such a course. But we find out that she is writing this after her successes as an author, so the style does not match the style of an accomplished writer.  But maybe that is a point of the novel; when you are dealing with the holes in your heart you are hobbled whether you know it or not.

Beautiful read and a book that will become even more meaningful to me in the days that follow.  Are we all "hospitalized" because of emotional trauma and need to "meet" with forebears to purge the viruses that course through our bodies?

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