I SO enjoyed my first time reading Elizabeth Strout! Written in a very different style from what I have read recently, it was almost a stream of consciousness. I felt the author was speaking directly to me. Like a personal friend sharing her intimate, innermost thoughts.
We meet Lucy Barton when she is hospitalized for an undisclosed illness, an infection of some sort. A happily married mother of two young girls, Lucy feels as though being in hospital has made her isolated and apart – a feeling she is very familiar with. She longs to return home to resume her life. During her hospital stay of almost nine weeks she lies in her bed looking out the window at the Chrysler Building against the night sky.
Lucy is a writer. When reading books she feels less ‘alone’ so she wants to write so that other people will feel less alone also. She says that in the third grade she read a book that made her want to write a book.
Her enforced idleness provides her with ample time to reflect on her life and her marriage, and she tries to understand herself and those who have touched her life.
When her estranged mother makes the long journey from rural Illinois to New York City to visit her, she reconnects with her and relives many childhood memories – none of them pleasant. Lucy grew up poor and neglected. Shown no affection, emotionally traumatized and without many of the physical comforts, even basic necessities, that so many of us enjoy. She reflects on how she and her siblings ‘did without’ and how they were ostracized by their schoolmates. She doesn’t have any knowledge of popular culture, partly due to the fact that she didn’t have a television growing up. She remembers being cold and being left to fend for herself. As more and more unsettling revelations come to light, the reader wonders how Lucy can stand to have her mother in the same room. Yet she seems delighted and grateful for her presence.
Her mother has never expressed her feelings toward Lucy and that has not changed. She seems incapable of showing affection – though the reader wonders if it is there, hidden beneath her brusque exterior. Lucy has always felt unlovable. She cannot remember her mother ever giving her a kiss.
Every mother of a daughter knows that they long for that time when they can get past all the parental angst and guilt. When they can ‘connect’ in a true way. Lucy wants this for herself, and, she wants it for her daughters.
Lucy Barton voices the thoughts that many of us share. How we all have an inherent need for respect and belonging. How hurtful it is to feel judged, humiliated, desperate or to suffer indignities at the hands of others. How everyone longs to be understood.
While writing about the brief reunion of a mother and daughter, Elizabeth Strout also writes about the human condition. Sharing her thoughts with honesty and candor.
A novel of mothers and daughters which aptly illustrates the imperfections of love.
Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire. An award-winning novelist, Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel “Olive Kitteridge“.