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Lucy by the Sea: Book summary and reviews of Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy by the Sea

A Novel

by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout X
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
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  • Published Sep 2023
    304 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

From Pulitzer Prize–winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout comes a poignant, pitch-perfect novel about a divorced couple stuck together during lockdown - and the love, loss, despair, and hope that animate us even as the world seems to be falling apart.

With her trademark spare, crystalline prose—a voice infused with "intimate, fragile, desperate humanness" (Washington Post)—Elizabeth Strout turns her exquisitely tuned eye to the inner workings of the human heart, following the indomitable heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton through the early days of the pandemic.

As a panicked world goes into lockdown, Lucy Barton is uprooted from her life in Manhattan and bundled away to a small town in Maine by her ex-husband and on-again, off-again friend, William. For the next several months, it's just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the moody, swirling sea.

Rich with empathy and emotion, Lucy by the Sea vividly captures the fear and struggles that come with isolation, as well as the hope, peace, and possibilities that those long, quiet days can inspire. At the heart of this story are the deep human connections that unite us even when we're apart—the pain of a beloved daughter's suffering, the emptiness that comes from the death of a loved one, the promise of a new friendship, and the comfort of an old, enduring love.

First published September 2022; paperback reprint September 2023

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. At the start of the novel, Lucy doesn't understand William's concern about getting out of New York City. Could you understand Lucy's ambivalence? How did you process the early days of the pandemic?
  2. Reflective. Melancholy. Hopeful. Insightful. How would you describe the tone of Lucy by the Sea, and why?
  3. Discuss Lucy's relationship with her ex-husband, William. Why do you think they have remained in each other's lives for so long? Were you satisfied with how they ended up at the end of the novel, or were you wary, like their daughters? Please explain.
  4. There are many moving scenes in Lucy by the Sea. Which ones stayed with you, and why?
  5. Lucy's brother. William's half-sister. How did these siblings shape Lucy and William? What role did ...

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

Some of the recent comments posted about Lucy by the Sea:

Could you understand Lucy's ambivalence to leaving New York City? How did you process the early days of the pandemic?
As others have said, the early days were punctuated by disbelief, doubt, naivete. We had never lived through anything like the COVID-19 pandemic, and had no way to predict what was going to happen. I related to Lucy's ambivalence about leaving ... - JHSiess

Discuss Lucy's relationship with her daughter Becka.
In some ways, Lucy sees herself in Becka. She knows the pain that Becka experiences when she discovers Trey is having an affair. It hurts, even if the partner who is betrayed by the affair knows that the marriage isn't strong in the first place ... - JHSiess

Discuss Lucy's relationship with her ex-husband, William. Why do you think they have remained in each other's lives for so long? Were you satisfied with how they ended up?
Lucy and William have an unbreakable bond based upon all they have been through together, and the fact that they have two daughters. They are comfortable around each other with no need for pretense and that is refreshing. They have genuine affection ... - JHSiess

How did their siblings shape Lucy and William?
I feel like I might have a better answer to this if this wasn't my first book about Lucy, but I do feel like the author gave me enough history to be able to understand the book I was reading. Lucy mourns her brother, and his life from such ... - pnelson384

How would you describe the tone of Lucy by the Sea?
Everyday. About nothing and about everything. Reflective. What I loved about the book is it's ability to talk about normal everyday things and then zoom all the way out and all the way back in to what's important to notice. - pnelson384

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Media Reviews

"Graceful, deceptively light ... Lucy's done the hard work of transformation. May we do the same." —The New York Times

"Lucy by the Sea has an anecdotal surface that belies a firm underlying structure. It is meant to feel like life—random, surprising, occasionally lit with flashes of larger meaning—but it is art." —The New Yorker

"No novelist working today has Strout's extraordinary capacity for radical empathy, for seeing the essence of people beyond reductive categories, for uniting us without sentimentality. I didn't just love Lucy by the Sea; I needed it. May droves of readers come to feel enlarged, comforted, and genuinely uplifted by Lucy's story." —The Boston Globe

"Strout follows up Oh William! with a captivating entry in the Lucy Barton series...Loneliness, grief, longing, and loss pervade intertwined family stories as Lucy and William attempt to create new friendships in an initially hostile town. What emerges is a prime testament to the characters' resilience. With Lucy Barton, Strout continues to draw from a deep well." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This information about Lucy by the Sea 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

Patricia Nelson

Great read
This is my first Elizabeth Strout book, and I loved it. I don't know if I could have read it sooner than now - I needed some time and space from the events in the book in order to really enjoy this one. I loved this story about two people who are thrown together for an extended time. It's a story about nothing and everything. It's about long-term relationships, mothers and daughters, politics (only lightly alluded to), disagreeing without being disagreeable, forgiveness, maturity, how we deal with stress. I loved Lucy's voice. She's a flawed person, to be sure, just as we all are. William's personality reminded me of people I know and love, so while he didn't always come across very well on the page, I could see others in his character. (I'm not referring to his past actions, just his general personality.) This would be a great book club book because there is so much to discuss.


Lucy By the Sea
Inspired by the true events surrounding the destruction of the town, Iola, in the 1960’s, this story tells of hardship, loss, courage and resilience. Story begins on a small peach ranch in Iola, Colorado. The Gunnison River is damned, the town is flooded, and a reservoir built. Prior to this, Victoria, 17, encounters young Wilson Moon, by chance and falls for him. She gets pregnant and tragedy strikes. She isolates herself in a small hut in the mountains, where she struggles in the wilderness. Alone, she has the baby and gives him up to a young woman who, by chance is stopped in the woods with a newborn baby of her own. Character development superb and the writer is truly gifted. Example- “my insides were tumbling like pebbles in a stream.” She is able to describe the beautiful, harsh landscape so that you feel that you are there. A must read!

anita r

unexpected surprises
I really liked and enjoyed reading Lucy By The Sea. Not at all complicated and was easy reading. Lucy was a bit manipulative but managed to get what she wanted. I personally think the author took Covid too far....I guess there would not be a story if she did otherwise. William was a little off-putting but still I liked his character, I do like the way the author the point and short paragraphs. Now I will read O William and get a better handle on who William is.

Cathryn Conroy

A Lovely, Heartfelt, and Deeply Endearing Story That Is the Literary Equivalent of a Comfy Blanket
Oh, I just want to hug this book!

This is a lovely, heartfelt, deeply endearing story about the Covid lockdown as experienced by one of Elizabeth Strout's most beloved characters, Lucy Barton. And while each of us has our own unique story to tell about this unsettling time, somehow Lucy manages to speak for many of us about the isolation, fear, uncertainties, anxieties, disruption, and political unrest, as well as the newfound friendships, love, and personal growth that defined 2020 and 2021.

It's March 2020 and this strange, fearsome virus is making its presence known. Lucy is still reeling from the death a year ago of her beloved second husband, David, when her first husband, William, calls her and tells her in no uncertain terms that he is whisking her away from New York City to the wilds of coastal Maine to save her life. Lucy is confused. Figuring that William's odd trip to Maine with her in tow will last a few weeks at most, she packs only one small suitcase. The two rent a house and set up platonic housekeeping, while also trying to rescue their two married daughters, who live in New York City.

The heart and soul of the story is how Lucy and William adjust to the isolation, make new friends, and discover new things about themselves as individuals and each other as a couple. In addition to dealing with grief for those close to them who die of Covid, Lucy wrestles with being the mother to grown-up daughters who don't particularly need her, as well as horrifying memories of her terrible, abusive childhood.

But the most brilliant parts of the book are how Strout addresses the disparities of the lockdown—the ultimate haves vs. the have nots, as well as the vast and stark political differences of the country. Her prose should be read by everyone for a greater understanding of how "the other" thinks—no matter who "the other" is for you.

Written in Lucy's first-person voice, this ingenious novel reminds me of two friends conversing about the details of their day. It is filled with both joy and sorrow, and at times it is brutally raw with human emotion.

A really fun bonus: Characters from other Strout novels make appearances big and small, including Bob Burgess from "The Burgess Boys" and Olive Kitteridge from the "Olive Kitteridge" and "Olive, Again." While you can totally appreciate "Lucy by the Sea" as a standalone book without having read any of the others before it (it is fourth in the "Lucy Barton" series), it's a much richer experience if you know what comes previously.

This novel resonates with wisdom, insights, and a deep, almost visceral, understanding of what it means to be fully human. Reading this book is the literary equivalent of a soft, comfortable blanket. It will make you feel warm and good all over, knowing that even though we all felt so alone and lonely at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, we are not alone and lonely. We still have each other. And we still have Lucy Barton.


The pandemic
Elizabeth Strout does it again, walking us through what the pandemic meant to those who could protect themselves early on. As always, the characters feel like someone I might actually know.

Divya Ann Mathew

Lucy by the Sea
Lucy by the Sea" by Elizabeth Strout delves into the delicate intricacies of the human experience, painting a poignant portrait of Lucy Barton as she navigates the early days of the pandemic. Strout, known for her exquisite prose, captures the essence of the human heart with a narrative that is both spare and crystalline.

In the throes of a world gripped by panic and lockdowns, Lucy finds herself abruptly uprooted from her life in Manhattan, transported to a small town in Maine by her enigmatic ex-husband and on-again, off-again friend, William. The setting, a modest house nestled against the moody, swirling sea, becomes the backdrop for a deeply introspective journey through their complex past.

The narrative, rich with empathy and emotion, skillfully encapsulates the fear and struggles inherent in isolation. Through Strout's lens, the reader witnesses the transformation of those long, quiet days—where uncertainty looms large—into a canvas of hope, peace, and possibilities. The storytelling is a masterful exploration of the human spirit, resilient in the face of adversity.

At its core, "Lucy by the Sea" weaves a tapestry of human connections—those profound ties that bind us, even when physical distance prevails. The narrative unearths the pain of witnessing a beloved daughter's suffering, the profound emptiness following the death of a loved one, the tentative promise of a new friendship, and the enduring comfort of an old, steadfast love.

Strout's ability to illuminate the depth of these relationships transforms the novel into a poignant meditation on the shared human experience. "Lucy by the Sea" is a testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit and the interconnectedness that sustains us, even in the most challenging of times.

...4 more reader reviews

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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
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Link to Elizabeth Strout's Website

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

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