Book Club Pick: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
“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.”
And so begins the story of Lucy Barton, a young wife and mother who is recovering from an unnamed illness in a New York City hospital. Although the story centers on Lucy’s time in the hospital, the book meshes three stories—Lucy’s childhood, the hospital stay and her life as a writer.
Told in snippets of memory; we know that she is married and has two beloved children, but we don’t see much of her husband or the children. Instead, her long-estranged mother shows up at the hospital from Amgash, Illinois, and sits at Lucy’s bedside for five days, never leaving even to sleep.
In the haze of her recovery, Lucy listens to her mother talk, mostly about people from her hometown, gossip about their marriages, but never about what is most on Lucy’s mind—the extreme poverty of her childhood, her father’s alcoholism, her mother’s abuse. Her mother never asks about Lucy’s own marriage or her two beloved girls. Instead, Lucy and her mother talk around these issues, and it is what is left unsaid that paints this story.
The story goes back and forth in time, and Lucy reflects on many aspects of her life—her childhood, of course, but also the influence of a writing mentor, the kindness of her doctor, a beloved sixth grade teacher. It almost doesn’t matter what her mother says; it’s the mere comfort of her mother’s voice that helps Lucy to heal and to piece together the many bits of her life. This is a brief, but thoughtful novel about the fragile bonds of family, the comfort of a mother’s voice and the imperfection of love.