my name is lucy barton book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is a novel that begins in reflection. The main character, Lucy, is looking back at a time “many years ago” in which she was hospitalized for nine weeks with a mysterious illness. At that time, she was weak and growing weaker. Her one constant was the view from her hospital bed of the Chrysler Building. In the daytime, the building seemed to recede, another gray silhouette surround by gray, but at night, it shown bright giving Lucy hope in her darkness.

Lucy’s story is about loneliness and isolation. Even surrounded by family, she seems to be alone. Lucy wakes in her hospital room some days after being admitted to find her mother sitting in the chair at the foot of her bed. They have not seen each other since Lucy went away to New York. In that time, Lucy married, had children, and lived a different life from what she knew as a child in her parent’s house. In an effort to calm her loneliness and fear, Lucy asks her mother about people she once knew. Her mother tells stories and Lucy is comforted for a time in the memories and the sound of her mother’s voice. Neither speaks of their own feelings and their conversations skirt around familial ties but never delve deep. Through the stories, one gets a sense that loneliness seems to be a malady for all the characters in this novel.

My Name is Lucy Barton is a beautifully written work of storytelling. Strout captures the mood of Lucy’s beliefs through short chapters and quick sentences. Although the novel is almost all flashback, glimpses of Lucy’s contemporary life are dusted into the narrative fold throughout the story. Interspersed between reflection and contemporary stories, Lucy frequently speaks to the reader with her personal asides. At first, Lucy’s little departures seem to pull the reader out of the narrative. However, the asides become intimate snatches of Lucy trying to impart what she is really feeling without fully sharing her emotions. It becomes apparent through the book that Lucy’s digressions are an important means to help Lucy impart her beliefs into her story.  The novel does come back around to her present life, but it is an interesting narrative traveling the routes of Lucy’s thoughts. Through her reflection, the reader learns about Lucy Barton’s life and grows to know the woman she becomes.

My Name is Lucy Barton is a rather quiet novel with a lot of substance. This is an intimate look at life and the loneliness of existence but also of growth and change. This is the affirmation of one woman’s existence in a world that sometimes seems to ignore the individual. As with Strout’s other novels, My Name is Lucy Barton is definitely worth reading if you like quiet reflection, characters who grow, and a story flowing with substance.

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.