Wednesday, November 23, 2016

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON by Elizabeth Strout

This novel seems so authentic that it feels like an autobiography.  And, yes, the narrator, Lucy Barton, is a writer.  She is enduring an extended hospital stay resulting from an appendectomy infection.  One morning she wakes up in her hospital bed to find her estranged mother sitting in the room.  Lucy’s husband, who barely visits at all, has paid for Lucy’s mother’s journey.  Little by little, the author reveals disturbing snippets in Lucy’s poverty-stricken and abusive childhood.  Although Lucy as a grownup has had very little contact with her mother, she is delighted to see her and hear her take on their family’s place in the community, as well as curious nuggets of information about neighbors.  What’s interesting here is that there is a massive disconnect between the reality of Lucy’s childhood and her mother’s distorted view.  Lucy’s mother offers no regret, embarrassment, or apology for Lucy’s extremely painful childhood.  Her mother is disconnected emotionally as well, unable to express the love for her daughter that she obviously feels.  The author explores the mother-daughter dynamic here in a way that transcends logic.  Lucy has kept her distance from her mother for years but now delights in sharing memories and stories that don’t relate to either of their current lives.  Elements of this book seem very much like The Glass Castle but with more emphasis on Lucy’s present life in New York, including her admiration for her very caring doctor and for an established author who gives her some important advice about not whitewashing the ugly stuff.

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