We are proud to announce that BookBrowse has won Platinum in the 2024 Modern Library Awards.

Oh William!: Book summary and reviews of Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Oh William!

Amgash Series #3

by Elizabeth Strout

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout X
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout explores the mysteries of marriage and the secrets we keep, as a former couple reckons with where they've come from - and what they've left behind.

I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.

Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are.

So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret—one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout's "perfect attunement to the human condition." There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together—even after we've grown apart.

At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. "This is the way of life," Lucy says: "the many things we do not know until it is too late."

First published in October 2021; paperback reprint April 2022.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Why have Lucy and William stayed in each other's lives? Did you find yourself wishing they would get back together? How, if at all, did that feeling change over the course of the book?
  2. Compare and contrast Lucy's marriages to William and to David. How does she characterize each relationship? How does each man complement her in a different way?
  3. What does Lucy learn about herself through her relationship with William? What have you learned about yourself through your relationships with others?
  4. Discuss Lucy's relationship with her mother-in-law, Catherine. What does the story about Catherine getting rid of the coat Lucy loved say about their relationship? Did your opinion of Catherine change as you learned more about her past? If ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Oh William!:

Discuss Lucy's thoughts on having a home without William and her view that to deny her husband the chance of comforting her was "an unspeakably awful thing."
In a marriage or other close relationship sometimes one person is suffering. If the other person can comfort the sufferer it benefits both persons. But not allowing the other to comfort can create a big distance between the two. A few days before ... - Charli Fulton

Do you agree with Lucy's views on class in America? Where do you see the themes of class and money appearing in the book?
I agree with Lucy's feelings on class in America. She knows from her experiences growing up that without the help of a great school counselor she would probably be like her siblings. She was able to physically move on but in her heart and mind... - reene

How did you feel about Lucy and William by the end of the book?
I honestly found them rather self-involved. It is a rare privilege that most people do not share to have the mental energy to spend so much time chewing on old traumas. I realize they were both deeply damaged by their childhoods, especially Lucy, but... - reidob

How do we get to know about the characters who populate this book?
Believe it or not, I have not read any of Stout's other books but I understood the characters clearly. Lucy is very descriptive in her details of herself and other characters of the stories. I disagree that other books need to be read before ... - xandrabk

How do you think Lucy and William were influenced by their parents' trauma? How were their daughters influenced by their parents' trauma? Is there a way to stop this cycle?
I think Lucy, initially, was affected by her trauma such that she did not feel self value. William's parenting caused him to be a bit selfish and set in his ways. He became disappointed in his mother after finding out that he was not the only ... - xandrabk

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Media Reviews

"Loneliness and betrayal, themes to which the Pulitzer Prize–winning Strout has returned throughout her career, are ever present in this illuminating character-driven saga... It's not for nothing that Strout has been compared to Hemingway. In some ways, she betters him." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Strout's habitual themes of loneliness and the impossibility of ever truly knowing another person are ubiquitous in this deeply sad tale, which takes its title from Lucy's head-shaking acknowledgment that her ex will never change, cannot change the remoteness at the core of his personality. Another skillful, pensive exploration of Strout's fundamental credo: 'We are all mysteries.'" - Kirkus Reviews

"Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite writers, so the fact that Oh William! may well be my favorite of her books is a mathematical equation for joy. The depth, complexity, and love contained in these pages is a miraculous achievement." - Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House

This information about Oh William! was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own reviewwrite your own review

Cathryn Conroy

A Subtle but Viscerally Insightful Look at One Woman's Innermost Thoughts
This is the rarest of books. I felt myself becoming the main character. The writing is so perfect, so brilliant, so masterful that I, the reader, became Lucy Barton. It was weird. I could feel it happening.

Oh yes, there is a reason Elizabeth Strout is one of my top three favorite writers. (Who can choose one favorite writer? It's like choosing a favorite child!) The sheer genius of this is that Lucy Barton's life is the polar opposite of my own life—yet, I still felt like I was inhabiting the character.

This is the third in the series about Lucy Barton, and you absolutely must read them in order beginning with "My Name Is Lucy Barton: A Novel" and then "Anything Is Possible: A Novel." In this book, Lucy is not only divorced from William, her first husband, but also she has been a widow for five years after her second husband, David, has died. William is almost 70 when the book opens, and is having a bit of a crisis. Since he and Lucy get along OK, he calls her. A lot. He then discovers something truly shocking about his deceased mother—the kind of thing that just turns your world upside down. He and Lucy take a road trip to Maine to try to figure out this life-changing development. While there, they also reveal much to each other about the secrets of their long-ago marriage, and Lucy learns much about herself.

That's the plot, such as it is, but this book is not plot-dependent. It is a story of self-revelation as Lucy begins to comprehend who she is and how pivotal events in her past shaped her personality. It's an intimate look at one woman's deepest, uncensored thoughts. Reading this book almost feels like surreptitiously reading another's journal and hoping you don't get caught in the act.

The literary genius of the Lucy Barton trilogy is how different each book is. The first is a novel. The second is interrelated short stories that together form a novel. And this third book is a memoir that becomes a novel.

This beautifully written book is a subtle but viscerally insightful look at one woman's soul and the meaning of her life written by a master of American literature.

Susan W.

Read more than once
Elizabeth Strout has packed so much life and wisdom into this spare novel, it will take me more than one reading to digest all it contains. Her characters are so human, so flawed, so seeking.
"When does a person actually 'choose' anything?" William asks Lucy. A succinct summary of the book, which is filled with deep examinations of what life contains for some people.
William's adultery has a devastating effect on Lucy and her description of what she felt is faultless:

A tulip stem snapped inside me. This is
what I felt.
It has stayed snapped, it never grew back.

Amazing book, amazing writer. I have a few more of hers lined up to be read.

Cloggie Downunder

another powerful read
Oh William! is the third novel in the Amgash series by best-selling, Pulitzer Prize winning American author, Elizabeth Strout. Not long widowed and still very much grieving her second husband, David Abramson, Lucy Barton relates recent events in the life of her first husband, William Gerhardt.

Two life-changing things that occur in fairly short succession see her travelling with William to Maine to perhaps connect with a relative of whom William was, until recently, unaware. It’s a journey of many revelations, both about newly-discovered family, those already departed, each other and themselves.

Lucy’s narrative comes across as a little rambling, at first, but it soon becomes clear that all those casual asides, those frequently inserted anecdotes from earlier, are given to illustrate a certain point, a feeling, an opinion.

Musing on what she had with each husband, she tells the reader that even though “At times in our marriage I loathed him. I saw, with a kind of dull disc of dread in my chest, that with his pleasant distance, his mild expressions, he was unavailable”, William was her home, that she felt safe in his presence.

She does not talk much about David, noting what they had in common “It is hard to describe what it is like when one is raised in such isolation from the outside world. So we became each other’s home. But we— both of us felt this way—we felt that we were perched like birds on a telephone wire in New York City” and concluding that “David was a tremendous comfort to me.”

Strout gives her characters palpable emotions, wise words and insightful observations. When Lucy is unable to understand why William married her, a nothing, he tells her: “Lucy, I married you because you were filled with joy. You were just filled with joy. And when I finally realized what you came from—when we went to your house that day to meet your family and tell them we were getting married, Lucy, I almost died at what you came from. I had no idea that was what you came from. And I kept thinking, But how is she what she is? How could she come from this and have so much exuberance? …. There has never been anyone in the world like you. You steal people’s hearts, Lucy.”

Strout’s writing, both in style and subject matter, is reminiscent of Sebastian Barry with shades of Anne Tyler. Strout writes about ordinary people leading what they believe are ordinary lives (although there are definitely some quirky ones doing strange things amongst them) and does it with exquisite yet succinct prose. Another powerful read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Penguin UK Viking.

A. Knoll

Incomplete marriages
Quite simply, I found the story line boring. Incomplete romances, while interesting sidelines, are not compelling reading.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Elizabeth Strout Author Biography

Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire. From a young age she was drawn to writing things down, keeping notebooks that recorded the quotidian details of her days. She was also drawn to books, and spent hours of her youth in the local library lingering among the stacks of fiction. During the summer months of her childhood she played outdoors, either with her brother, or, more often, alone, and this is where she developed her deep and abiding love of the physical world: the seaweed covered rocks along the coast of Maine, and the woods of New Hampshire with its hidden wildflowers.

During her adolescent years, Strout continued writing avidly, having conceived of herself as a writer from early on. She read biographies of writers, ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview
Link to Elizabeth Strout's Website

Other books by Elizabeth Strout at BookBrowse
  • The Burgess Boys jacket
  • Olive, Again jacket
  • Olive Kitteridge jacket

9 more...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more literary fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Neighbors and Other Stories
    Neighbors and Other Stories
    by Diane Oliver
    The history of American segregation, along with changes to it in the 1960s, is sometimes taught and ...
  • Book Jacket: Wild and Distant Seas
    Wild and Distant Seas
    by Tara Karr Roberts
    Tara Karr Roberts is a newspaper columnist who also teaches English and journalism. Wild and Distant...
  • Book Jacket: The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years
    The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years
    by Shubnum Khan
    Shubnum Khan's eloquent and moving debut novel opens in 1932, when a djinn that haunts a house by ...
  • Book Jacket: Transient and Strange
    Transient and Strange
    by Nell Greenfieldboyce
    Throughout her powerful essay collection, Transient and Strange, science reporter Nell ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Mockingbird Summer
by Lynda Rutledge
A powerful and emotional coming-of-age novel set in the 1960s by the bestselling author of West with Giraffes.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Strong Passions
    by Barbara Weisberg

    Shocking revelations of a wife's adultery in 19th New York explode in an incendiary trial exposing the upper-crust and its secrets.

  • Book Jacket

    The Adversary
    by Michael Crummey

    An enthralling novel about a small town struggling to survive, and a bitter vendetta between two rivals.

Win This Book
Win The Cleaner

The Cleaner
by Brandi Wells

Rarely has cubicle culture been depicted in such griminess or with such glee."
PW (starred review)



Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.