“You will have only one story,” she had said. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”
Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the beautiful short story collection, Olive Kitteridge. Her latest novel is My Name is Lucy Barton, a short, moving novel about a woman’s relationship with her mother and her attempt to escape her past.
It’s written in the voice of a middle-aged woman name Lucy Barton. She grew up in poverty in the midwest, got a scholarship to go to college, and had the chance to remake herself in New York City. Most of it takes place in a hospital room as she’s recovering from an infection, and her estranged mother comes to keep her company. It moves forward and backwards through her life — her childhood, her first years on her own in college, her move to the city, her transformation into a mother herself; fueled like fevered memories that surface only when we have a long span of unstructured time to reflect. We learn that she wants to find her voice as a writer, and the novel transforms into the direct first writing attempts by this fictional character to tell her own story. It’s Elizabeth Strout’s strength as a writer that Lucy Barton’s fictional voice is so powerful and authentic. We learn the depths of her loneliness, and her complex relationship with her mother. Her core need of feeling loved by the one person who can’t say it.
And he looked at me then, and with real kindness on his face, and I see now that he recognized what I did not: that in spite of my plentitude, I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.
This isn’t the kind of novel you read for the plot. Like the wonderful Did You Every Have a Family by Bill Clegg, It’s the kind of novel you read for the emotion and humanity it expresses so well.
FTC disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Author photo by Jerry Bauer.