A review of My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Reviewed by Jeanne Palmateer

My Name is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout
Random House Trade
Paperback: 224 pages, November 29, 2016, ISBN-13: 978-0812979527

Elizabeth Strout’s new book, My Name is Lucy Barton, begins with, “There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks.” This nine-week hospital stay is woven throughout the whole book as Lucy’s story unfolds. A key focus of the book is the relationship between a mother and her daughter, which is seen when Lucy’s mother visits her in the hospital for five days. Lucy was in the hospital because she was not recovering after her appendix was removed. This hospital stay is a parallel to the years of struggle that Lucy has lived through as they both take a long time to heal.

Lucy is both the main character and the narrator of her story. Her story is one of love and loneliness, of outcasts and acceptance, of fear of dying and living life, and of relationships. Each of the short chapters gives the reader a deeper understanding of who Lucy Barton is as a woman and who she was as a child. Every story told in the book is written as a past memory and Lucy intertwines her own reflections as she tells her story. The story is told through the narrator’s point of view in the same fashion one would write a memoir about his or her own life. What Elizabeth Strout has done so brilliantly is convinced readers that Lucy’s life is real and we are a part of it.

Before the hospital stay, Lucy was estranged from her family in rural Illinois while she had begun her own family in New York. When Lucy writes about her experiences as a child, I was filled with sadness for the poverty and lack of love in her life. Lucy grew up impoverished, but refused to let that stop her as she earned a free ride to college where she continued to succeed. However, Lucy’s success and her moving away from her family created a rift that is never truly mended. In fact, when Lucy’s mom visited her in the hospital, it was the first time they had seen each other in years.

The book continues in the non-linear narrative as Lucy ties together her journey of discovering who she was – a writer. The loneliness of her life, especially in childhood, drove Lucy to the realization that she would write and write so that people would not feel so alone:

But the books brought me things. This is my point. They made me feel less alone. This is my point. And I thought: I will write and people will not feel so alone! (But it was my secret. Even when I met my husband I didn’t tell him right away. I couldn’t take myself seriously. Except that I did. I took myself—secretly, secretly—very seriously! I knew I was a writer. I didn’t know how hard it would be. But no one knows that; and that does not matter.)

The story of My Name is Lucy Barton beautifully fulfills Lucy’s dream of being a writer and makes the reader feel connected and no longer alone in the world. The whole book is a story of Lucy writing a book about her life. As the reader, I was drawn into the beauty and pain of Lucy’s life. The beauty of this book is found in how this lovely work of fiction manifests itself to be real and relevant to the reader’s life.

As I read this beautiful novel, I felt like I was by Lucy’s side and was privy to her deepest thoughts and desires. Although our past experiences and ages are very different, I felt connected to Lucy through her desire to write. I like how Lucy interrogates herself to come to the truth and self-discovery about how she felt and perceived things in the past that are now memories. Lucy’s journey into and during adulthood is very encouraging to me as a college student because I can see how the mistakes and joys that Lucy experiences help her to grow become her own person. My Name is Lucy Barton engulfed me in a world of struggles outside of my own, yet I was able to sympathize with Lucy because, by the end of the book, she was my friend.

Elizabeth Strout’s new book, My Name is Lucy Barton, begins with, “There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks.” This nine-week hospital stay is woven throughout the whole book as Lucy’s story unfolds. A key focus of the book is the relationship between a mother and her daughter, which is seen when Lucy’s mother visits her in the hospital for five days. Lucy was in the hospital because she was not recovering after her appendix was removed. This hospital stay is a parallel to the years of struggle that Lucy has lived through as they both take a long time to heal.

Lucy is both the main character and the narrator of her story. Her story is one of love and loneliness, of outcastes and acceptance, of fear of dying and living life, and of relationships. Each of the short chapters gives the reader a deeper understanding of who Lucy Barton is as a woman and who she was as a child. Every story told in the book is written as a past memory and Lucy intertwines her own reflections as she tells her story. The story is told through the narrator’s point of view in the same fashion one would write a memoir about his or her own life. What Elizabeth Strout has done so brilliantly is convinced readers that Lucy’s life is real and we are a part of it.

Before the hospital stay, Lucy was estranged from her family in rural Illinois while she had begun her own family in New York. When Lucy writes about her experiences as a child, I was filled with sadness for the poverty and lack of love in her life. Lucy grew up impoverished, but refused to let that stop her as she earned a free ride to college where she continued to succeed. However, Lucy’s success and her moving away from her family created a rift that is never truly mended. In fact, when Lucy’s mom visited her in the hospital, it was the first time they had seen each other in years.

The book continues in the non-linear narrative as Lucy ties together her journey of discovering who she was – a writer. The loneliness of her life, especially in childhood, drove Lucy to the realization that she would write and write so that people would not feel so alone:

But the books brought me things. This is my point. They made me feel less alone. This is my point. And I thought: I will write and people will not feel so alone! (But it was my secret. Even when I met my husband I didn’t tell him right away. I couldn’t take myself seriously. Except that I did. I took myself—secretly, secretly—very seriously! I knew I was a writer. I didn’t know how hard it would be. But no one knows that; and that does not matter.)

The story of My Name is Lucy Barton beautifully fulfills Lucy’s dream of being a writer and makes the reader feel connected and no longer alone in the world. The whole book is a story of Lucy writing a book about her life. As the reader, I was drawn into the beauty and pain of Lucy’s life. The beauty of this book is found in how this lovely work of fiction manifests itself to be real and relevant to the reader’s life.

As I read this beautiful novel, I felt like I was by Lucy’s side and was privy to her deepest thoughts and desires. Although our past experiences and ages are very different, I felt connected to Lucy through her desire to write. I like how Lucy interrogates herself to come to the truth and self-discovery about how she felt and perceived things in the past that are now memories. Lucy’s journey into and during adulthood is very encouraging to me as a college student because I can see how the mistakes and joys that Lucy experiences help her to grow become her own person. My Name is Lucy Barton engulfed me in a world of struggles outside of my own, yet I was able to sympathize with Lucy because, by the end of the book, she was my friend.

About the reviewer: Jeanne Palmateer is a senior at Bethel College, Indiana. She is pursuing a major in English and Writing. After graduating, she plans to continue writing and working within the literary community.

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