My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is a contemporary fiction novel about a young woman named Lucy Barton (betcha couldn’t guess that one); when the novel begins, Lucy is in the hospital and reports that she has been in the hospital for a while due to complications after surgery. We learn that she is married with two children and that she hasn’t seen her children much because her husband doesn’t like hospitals and therefore, doesn’t visit her often. Lucy tells readers that another person (a woman) has to bring the girls to the hospital to see her and that she helps Lucy’s husband with caring for the girls in her absence. Lucy’s daughters grow to love this woman simply for being there. We also find out that Lucy’s husband calls her mother to let her know that Lucy is in the hospital and that her mother comes to see her. Lucy is shocked, startled, surprised to see her mother in the hospital with her. Lucy’s mother explains that the husband called her because he thought that she could use some company while she was there; this wasn’t necessarily far from the truth, but Lucy and her mother have a fairly strange relationship. When Lucy’s mother arrived, Lucy immediately feels almost happy and sad at her mother’s presence; however Lucy did miss her mother, wanted to hear her voice again and simply spent time in the moment with her mom.
During the time of her mother’s visit, Lucy and her mother talk about the different people they used to know during Lucy’s childhood and we learn about how Lucy grew up and who she grew up with. Her family lived in a very secluded part of town, were not rich, wealthy or middle-class and struggled to make ends meet. The children were not well kept, had dirty clothing and according to others, did not smell well; for these and other reasons, Lucy and her siblings were ridiculed, bullied and almost ignored by others. Lucy remembers receiving odd punishment from her parents such as being locked in her father’s truck for long periods of time and one particular time she remembers there being a large, brown snake in there too. Lucy also tells readers that they were not treated with compassion or empathy by those who went to church with them either. She endured a difficult childhood to say the least. Lucy recounts some of her childhood as she remembers it and some are stories she (or her mother) recount about other people in the town where they lived and how their lives changed.
Lucy remembers that she eventually ended up staying after school for as long as she could so she could simply remain warm (their house was cold) – she would sit in a classroom finishing her homework, studying and reading. Despite her difficulties at home and outward appearance, Lucy becomes one of the smartest students at her school.
Lucy is offered a full scholarship to a college because of her grades, but she remembers that her parents were not happy for her when they learned of the news. She explains that her family kind of disowned her once she left the small town and moved to New York. She shares how her mother never told the children that she loved them and that when she did, it was that she loved them when their eyes were closed (a strange thing to say) and that their mother was not the best at showing or giving affection. She tells us about the doctor in charge of her care, the nurses who helped care for her day after day, an author she met once in New York, the nice neighbor guy upstairs, Jeremy, her old teachers who made an impression on her – both good and bad. She tells us about her college roommate and past experiences she’s had that shaped who she became. Eventually, Lucy’s condition improves enough that she is discharged home, but she talks about how nothing is the same; she lost so much weight in the hospital and people look at her strangely when she goes out to shop for groceries or clothes for and with the girls. She talks about a gap or rift between her and her husband that they seem unable to overcome.
She goes on to tell us about the changes that have taken place in her life, how she decided to write about it (she’s a published author), how she doesn’t regret anything except being away from the girls as long as she had been and for leaving their father without realizing she’d be losing them too since they stayed with him. She talks about how she and her mother’s relationship endured over time. The ending of the novel was good, but unexpected. The author did a good job of making mundane hospital scenes readable and kept the plot moving along at a good pace. The book is an easy read and is almost like reading a diary (or journal) that Lucy kept. There are some funny moments, some sad and no romance. I would recommend this book to fans of Elizabeth Strout who may not have read this novel yet and to people who enjoy contemporary fiction novels and may be looking for a new author to read. I purchased my copy of the book at a used bookstore (my favorite place to go if you can’t tell) since I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it or not. I also wanted to read this book before reading Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible because it seemed that reading Anything is Possible would make more sense if I read this book first. We’ll see if this turns out to be true. For anyone interested in purchasing a copy, Barnes and Noble has hardcover copies for $26.00 ($7.00 for Members which is a savings of 73%).
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