Book: My Name is Lucy Barton

“Do I understand that hurt my children feel? I think I do, though they might claim otherwise. 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.”
—- My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

image It’s been a while since I finished a book in less than 48 hours time. I finished this morning. From the time I began reading I only stopped to eat, sleep, and do necessary household or personal chores. Normally, I go from a day to a week between reading sessions because life demands attention and I’m not a good multi-tasker. But this book.

It’s not a long book, only 143 pages, but every page, every paragraph, every sentence is a world. At first, I thought I didn’t like the author’s writing style, which is fragmented, but I soon realized it was the protagonist who was fragmented. Then I thought I just didn’t like the book much but when I kept reading I realized it was because it was bringing stuff from my own life to the surface and that’s what I didn’t like. I read much of the book with tears in my eyes.

The mother-daughter relationship is mysterious. Well, it can be. Lucy Barton explores the relationship of the narrator and her mother and (a little about) the narrator and her daughters. But it’s so much more.

Lucy’s mother spends five days with her while she’s in hospital. They talk but they more often talk around things. Subjects are avoided, words unsaid due to fear of hurting the other or fear of remembering what’s been buried. The relationship between them is difficult as mother-daughter relationships often are.

So many things struck me such as Lucy’s inability to be sure of her memories of her childhood. So many scenarios alluded to and vaguely described because living in a stressful environment does that to a child, the adults memory becomes fuzzy.

This is also the story of parents being one way when you’re a child and another when you’re an adult and they are old.  It’s a story of forgiving but not telling. It’s a story about loneliness.

This is a story so pure it hurts.

“I have sometimes been sad that Tennessee Williams wrote that line for Blanche DuBois, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Many of us have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers, but after a while it sounds trite, like a bumper sticker. And that’s what makes me sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker.”







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