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My Name Is Lucy Barton

Amgash Series #1

by Elizabeth Strout

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout X
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 208 pages

    Oct 2016, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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There are currently 4 reader reviews for My Name Is Lucy Barton
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Power Reviewer
Marianne Vincent

Powerful and ultimately uplifting.
“It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”

My Name Is Lucy Barton is the first novel in the Amgash series by best-selling American author, Elizabeth Strout. As Lucy Barton lies in her New York hospital room with its superb view of the Chrysler Building, trying to fight an infection after an appendectomy, she chats to her mother while waiting for the doctor, a kind, kind man, to visit.

Her ever-wakeful mother, whom she has not seen for many years, is there at the request of Lucy’s husband, William. Over the five days of her visit, they share stories and observations of people they both knew when Lucy was growing up in Amgash, Illinois.

Her mother’s stories stir other memories for Lucy, much less pleasant to recall, of a hard childhood in an unhealthy family with parents who love their children “imperfectly”, doling out both cruelty and kindness. Does her mother not remember these? Or has she repressed them?

The real love and care that stands out in Lucy’s memory came from those unrelated by blood: the school janitor, teachers and counsellors, a cashier in a cake shop. And later, neighbours, a writer, that kind doctor. Her husband, frustrated that Lucy doesn’t understand she “could be loved, was lovable.”

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, at least until they learn differently. Lucy says about her childhood: “that huge pieces of knowledge about the world were missing that can never be replaced” but she managed to learn how to act, to imitate others.

Strout’s prose is often exquisite “…I see now that he recognised what I did not: that in spite of my plenitude, I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavour I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me” and she gives her characters many insightful observations “.. she said that her job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do.” Powerful and ultimately uplifting.
Julie M.

Excellent Read
I recently re-read this book for one of my book groups and enjoyed it even more the second time. This is a journey through Lucy’s relationship with her mother and to some degree her father. Her mother comes to be with Lucy in the hospital while they navigate their emotions and feelings for each other by gossiping about people in their hometown and movie magazines. This is not a plot driven book, but rather a study in judgement, how we as humans struggle with expressing our feelings and how much we need our mothers no matter how old we get.

Imperfect Love
This is an episodic novel that weaves the events in Lucy Barton's life into a diary-like first person account. These events included glimpses of how poor Lucy grew up, five in the family, living in a garage until a relative's death lands them better shelter. "Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me." At the center of this recollection is a visit that Lucy's mother makes to the hospital when Lucy has complications from an appendix surgery. For five days her mother sits at the foot of her bed and they tell each other stories about people they know from their hometown of Amgash, Illinois, mostly these are stories about failed marriages. (A daughter and her mom gossiping about people they knew is the premise of Strout's Burgess Boys as well.) On the fringes of all these episodic stories is a terrible past that is not talked about, her father suffered from war trauma is the brief excuse given but certainly Lucy is scarred. Her mother is unable to tell her she loves her , but does seem to admire that Lucy moved on and did something with her life. She got away , unlike her two siblings. These brief scenes also reveal glimpses of her marriage and her experiences as a mother with two daughters of her own, and of her career as a successful writer. Lucy records these thoughts; she writes about her life as an observation, little emotion is detailed. It's a thoughtful portrait.

As Lucy grows as a novelist, taking a class in Arizona, her teacher/mentor summarizes "This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter. Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly. But if you find yourself protecting anyone as you write this piece, remember this: You’re not doing it right.”

She did it right.
S Johnson

My Name is Lucy Barton
While not truly relevant to this discussion, I will say here at the beginning that the rating of Very Good for this novel does not begin to express my feelings about it. Also, I have just finished reading the discussion critics offer about the length of the book - and I have to say I agree with the bottom line in those comments - length has no bearing whatsoever on impact here. While I am still trying to digest this book and express - to myself most importantly - what it is about, I can say immediately it is one of the most beautiful, spare, reverent, poetic, yet - in spite of its title and what that implies - universal books I have ever read. It is a true gift, very honestly spoken, and in an almost convoluted way, so full of hope for the soul. As Lucy, herself says in concluding her story, "All life amazes me." This book and it's message, its language, its structure, and its author - just for starters - will do the same for you, I feel certain.
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