Excerpt from Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Amy and Isabelle

by Elizabeth Strout

Amy and Isabelle
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  • First Published:
    Jan 1999, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2000, 304 pages

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What the Reader's Digest said was that if you kept on praying, your ability to pray would improve, but Isabelle wondered if the Reader's Digest might not have a tendency to make things a bit simple. She had enjoyed those articles "I Am Joe's Brain" or "I Am Joe's Liver," but the "Praying: Practice Makes Perfect" was really, when you thought about it, a little mundane.

After all, she had tried. She had tried for years to pray, and she would try again right now, lying down on her white bedspread, her skin moist from the shower, closing her eyes against the low white ceiling above her, to pray for His love. Ask and you shall receive. This was tricky business. You didn't want to ask for the wrong thing, go barking up the wrong tree. You didn't want God to think you were selfish by asking for things, the way the Catholics did. Arlene Tucker's husband had gone to Mass specifically to pray for a new car, and to Isabelle this was appalling. If Isabelle was going to get specific she wouldn't be so vulgar as to ask for a car-she would pray for a husband, or a better daughter. Except she wouldn't, of course. (Please God, send me a husband, or at least a daughter I can stand.) No, instead she would lie there on her bedspread and pray only for God's love and guidance, and try to let Him know she was available for these things if He cared to give her a sign. But she felt nothing, only the drops of sweat arriving once more above her lip and beneath her arms in the heat of this small bedroom. She was tired. God was probably tired as well. She sat up and slipped on her bathrobe and went down to the kitchen to eat with her daughter.
It was difficult.

For the most part they avoided each other's eyes, and Amy did not seem to find it necessary to take on the responsibility of a conversation. This stranger, my daughter. It could be a title for something in the Reader's Digest, if it hadn't already been done, and maybe it had, because it sounded familiar to Isabelle. Well, she wasn't going to think anymore, couldn't stand to think anymore. She fingered the Belleek china creamer sitting on the table in front of her, the delicate, shell-like, shimmering creamer that had belonged to her mother. Amy had filled it for Isabelle's tea; Isabelle liked tea with her meals when the weather was hot.

Isabelle, unable to contain her curiosity and telling herself that all things considered she had every right to know, said finally, "Who were you talking to on the telephone?"
"Stacy Burrows." This was said flatly, right before hamburger meat was pushed into Amy's mouth.

Isabelle sliced one of the canned beets on her plate, trying to place this Stacy girl's face.
"Blue eyes?"
"What?"
"Is she the girl with the big blue eyes and red hair?"
"I guess so." Amy frowned slightly. She was annoyed at the way her mother's face was tilted on the end of her long neck, like some kind of garter snake. And she hated the smell of baby powder.
"You guess so?"
"I mean, yeah, that's her."
There was the faint sound of silverware touching the plates; they both chewed so quietly their mouths barely moved.
"What is it her father does for a living?" Isabelle eventually asked. "Is he connected to the college somehow?" She knew he was certainly not connected to the mill.
Amy shrugged with food in her mouth. "Mmm-know."
"Well you must have some idea what the man does for a living."
Amy took a swallow of milk and wiped her mouth with her hand.
"Please." Isabelle dropped her eyelids with disgust, and Amy wiped with a napkin this time.
"He teaches there, I guess," Amy acknowledged.
"Teaches what."
"Psychology. I think."

There was nothing to say to that. If it was true, then to Isabelle it meant simply that the man was crazy. She did not know why Amy needed to choose the daughter of a crazy man to be friends with. She pictured him with a beard, and then remembered that the Mr. Robertson horror had had a beard as well, and her heart began to beat so fast she became almost breathless. The scent of baby powder rose from her chest.

Excerpted from Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout. Copyright© 1999 by Elizabeth Strout. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission.

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