A new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is cause for celebration. Her best-selling novels, including Olive Kitteridge andThe 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.
©2016 Elizabeth Strout (P)2016 Random House Audio
"This story of family, poverty, aspirations, and obstacles is immediately gripping, thanks to the combination of Strout's high-quality prose and Kimberly Farr's nearly flawless performance." (AudioFile)
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
A character in My Name is Lucy Barton says "I like writers who try to tell you something truthful," and Elizabeth Strout has done just that. This book feels almost like the reader is being told a once-upon-a-time recounting of Lucy's life and relationships, in a personal, intimate conversation with her. It begins to feel like we are sitting at Lucy's bedside, along with her mother, as she recovers in the hospital. This experience is heightened by listening to the audiobook, with the excellent narration by Kimberly Farr.
“I write because I want the reader to read the book when they may need it,” Strout wrote in an email. “For example, when I first read ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ I thought: ‘Wow, I really need this book!’ So I always hope that a reader will find the book when they need it, even if they didn’t know they needed it.”
And I did. I felt like Elizabeth Strout, through Lucy Barton, articulated and explained things I knew but couldn't express myself. The complexity of familial love, how things we wish we could hear from our loved ones just may not be possible for them to say, how we all love imperfectly, how we are all products of our background and experiences. I loved Olive Kitteridge, and My Name is Lucy Barton is even better.
Too short (at first), of course, because Elizabeth Strout always leaves you wanting more, but the story she tells fits perfectly into these four hours. A great listen for a book group because you can identify the author's style and narrative ploys--you can see the "bones" of the book and how they support the whole. But if you just want to listen for the thoughtful, gentle, sneaky-smart observations that lace all the parts together, go for it. It's a fine and lovely listen. (I'm always distressed at those who review a "short" book and call the author lazy. Nonsense. It takes much more time and talent to "write short"!)
Classics, biographies, mysteries.....so many things to read and enjoy!
What is your relationship with your own mother? Why?
These two questions will once again be with me for quite some time after reading this thoughtfully constructed novel about the tensions and trials between Lucy and her mother.
Elizabeth Strout has again written a thoughtful, mesmerizing novel. I can't say enough about the narrator, Kinberly Farr. She really feels the characters. She reads very slowly and with such controlled emotion. I would have to say that listening to her read this book is undoubtably a better experience than reading it and I rarely say that.
One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope
This is the story of Lucy Barton, who grew up in great poverty and suffered her parents’ neglect and abuse in the farmlands of Illinois and went on to became a successful fiction writer in New York City. Both poignant and profound on many different levels, Lucy Barton’s tale about herself is also a tale of many people in her life and an exploration of the human condition from the kindness of strangers to our basest need to find ways to feel superior to others by putting them down (in this book, based primarily on social status (poor) and regional distinctions (Southern, read “trash”), about how the pain we experience as children, from a parent’s neglect or our parents’ divorce, can be so sharp and our longings from childhood so substantial that we live with it every day “with each seizure of the beating heart.”
This is a story about how some humans cannot face the harm we have done and so we lash out at all around us with unfair, ignorant judgments to make ourselves feel superior or we erect immature walls of silence (like closing our eyes and pretending to nap) to protect ourselves from acknowledging our faults and responsibilities. It’s a story showing how some of us can never communicate our feelings of love and forgiveness and are incapable of offering even small measures of redemption. It’s a story of Lucy Barton’s father “who was tortured every day of his life for things he did during the war,” and of her mother as a “wife who stayed with him because most did during those days and she comes to her daughter’s hospital room and talks compulsively about everyone’s marriage going bad and she doesn’t even know that’s what she’s doing. This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter imperfectly.”
This short novel also provides an unflinching look at raw and unconditional love of children in the face of a parent’s neglect or inability to reciprocate, and how this will forever alter a child’s life, such that some just assume defeat, some are consumed by anger and resentment and others like Lucy accept and forgive. The story offers hope and redemption when a child, Lucy Barton, can write a story about her mother’s inability to ever say “I love you” or to kiss her daughter, with the intent of making people understand “It was alright.”
It’s also about Lucy Barton’s struggle to deal with the fallout from a marriage that she ended and the damage done to her daughters from the collapse. Lucy says that when she’s alone she will sometimes say softly, “Mommy,” and she doesn’t know if it’s her calling out for her mom or her daughter Becka cry for Lucy on the day the planes crashed into the Twin Towers. This indeed is the human heart in conflict with itself that Faulkner noted makes for great literature.
This is ultimately the story of Lucy Barton, a girl who loved her “Mommy” and who learned to see the world through the eyes of a fiction writer, without judgment, with an attempt to understand the sometimes impossibly decipherable human condition and “a heart as open as the heart of God,” notwithstanding the harm her heart still suffers from the acts or omissions of family members and the baseness of small people set on putting her down purely to make themselves feel superior.
“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.”
“There is this constant judgment in this world. How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another.”
“But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”
Yes. Don't let the simple unfolding fool you--Strout layers the real rich and complicated facets of mother-daughter love in a slow burn throughout these resonating pages.
Lucy. She gives others understanding and the opportunity to redeem themselves and when they don't she stays connected to them as best she can.
I lost myself in the entire novella.
Well well-written account of a troubled life when even success can't erase the years of hurt, rejection and desire to be loved by the only ones that matter, family.
Say something about yourself!
Yes, definitely. It speaks to me with softness and serious emotions.
Everything. She was meant to be a great narrator. Her voice is so smooth and relaxing, but at the same time, so moving.
I choose Lucy AND her Mother.
Best book and narration i've listened to in quite a while. Highly recommended!
This isn't really a story. Imagine being a therapist, listening to a client relate her thoughts and experiences. This book is that kind of experience. The narration by Kimberly Farr is so realistic and unforced, it feels like she is speaking to the listener. But even a wonderful narrator can't sustain interest when the "story" is so disjointed.
Elizabeth Strout wrote one of my favorite novels, the passionate and amazing Amy and Isabelle. I was looking forward to this book, which touches on some of the same mother/daughter themes. Maybe it would contain some of the vivid intensity of her first book. No such luck.
The narrative revolves around Lucy's stay in a hospital and a visit from her mother, who she hasn't seen or been in touch with for 15 years. Memories are sparked, old friends and neighbors discussed. What's most important is NOT discussed--the poverty of Lucy's background, the hinted at abuse, her mother's emotional blocks, and Lucy's anger about her upbringing. Still, there is a slight thaw in mother/daughter relations.
Strout is admirably restrained, but everything feels third-hand. Stories from the past, flashbacks inside of flashbacks. Although the narrator proclaims near the end that this is HER story, the main character remains elusive and unknowable. She's a writer and at one point is recognized by a neighbor as such, but why? She rarely utters interesting opinions, clever observations, or worthwhile insights. She seems a blank slate. No personality emerges, unless you count the boilerplate longings for love from her mother. Pretty generic stuff. There's no humor, irony, or wit in this book. Even a glimmer of any of that might have added some kick.
Kimberly Farr is a skilled professional reader, but the cornball, nasal voice she uses for the mother doesn't help matters.
On the plus side, it's very short.
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