Summary and book reviews of My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name Is Lucy Barton

by Elizabeth Strout

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout X
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2016, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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About this Book

Book Summary

The profound mother-daughter bond is explored through a mother's hospital visit to her estranged daughter by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys.

A new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is cause for celebration. Her bestselling novels, including Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, have illuminated our most tender relationships. Now, in My Name Is Lucy Barton, this extraordinary writer shows how a simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all - the one between mother and daughter.

Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn't spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy's childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy's life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks. This was in New York City, and at night a view of the Chrysler Building, with its geometric brilliance of lights, was directly visible from my bed. During the day, the building's beauty receded, and gradually it became simply one more large structure against a blue sky, and all the city's buildings seemed remote, silent, far away. It was May, and then June, and I remember how I would stand and look out the window at the sidewalk below and watch the young women—my age—in their spring clothes, out on their lunch breaks; I could see their heads moving in conversation, their blouses rippling in the breeze. I thought how when I got out of the hospital I would never again walk down the sidewalk without giving thanks for being one of those people, and for many years I did that—I would remember the view from the hospital window and be glad for the sidewalk I was ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Lucy's husband asks her mother to visit her in the hospital and pays for her trip. Do you think this is a gesture of love on his part?
  2. What role does the gossip Lucy and her mother share play in the book? 
  3. Do you think Lucy blames her mother for the more painful parts of her childhood? Could her mother have done better?
  4. World War II and the Nazis profoundly affect Lucy's father (and hence her whole family), Lucy's marriage to her first husband, and even her dreams. Discuss.
  5. Lucy expresses great love for her doctor. How would you describe that love?
  6. Lucy's friend Jeremy tells her she needs to be ruthless to be a writer. Does she take his advice? How?
  7. Why does Lucy keep returning again and again to see ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Strout's genius is to pack so much rich emotion into such a short work, and to do so with simple, uncomplicated language – something that, in my opinion, few authors are able to achieve. It is very possible, of course, that her expertise in writing short stories contributes heavily to this (as demonstrated by her Pulitzer Prize winning collection Olive Kittredge)...continued

Full Review (488 words).

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(Reviewed by Davida Chazan).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Despite its slim length, Strout's tender and moving novel should be read slowly, to savor the depths beneath what at first seems a simple story of a mother-daughter reconciliation.

Kirkus
Starred Review. Fiction with the condensed power of poetry: Strout deepens her mastery with each new work, and her psychological acuity has never required improvement.

Reader Reviews

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.” ...   Read More
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 ...   Read More
Mla08080

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...   Read More
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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

What Defines a Novel?

Many of the reviews of Strout's latest novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, have called it a "slim volume." Some might even say that its length of just over 200 pages makes it a novella not a novel. This raises the question, what page/word count defines a novel?

Opinions on this differ widely. For example, Writer's Digest suggests to writers who want to submit manuscripts in the adult fiction, commercial and literary genres, that a book with fewer than 70,000 words might be too short, and recommends that authors should aim for between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Assuming an average of 250-300 words per page an 80,000 word novel would have about 290 pages and a 100,000 word novel would stretch across about 360 pages.

An article in the ...

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