This is one of my favorite scenes in My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout:
The narrator is in a writing workshop led by a famous author she admires:
“…through the open window a cat suddenly jumped into the room, right onto the large table. The cat was huge, and long; in my memory he may as well have been a small tiger. I jumped up with terrible fear, and Sarah Payne [the author/instructor] jumped up as well; terribly she jumped, she had been that frightened. And then the cat ran out through the door of the classroom. The psychoanalyst woman from California, who usually said very little, said that day to Sarah Payne, in a voice that was–to my ears–almost snide, ‘How long have you suffered from post-traumatic stress?’
And what I remember is the look on Sarah’s face. She hated this woman for saying that. She hated her. There was a silence long enough that people saw this on Sarah’s face, this is how I think of it anyway. Then the man who had lost his wife said, ‘Well, hey, that was a really big cat.’
After that, Sarah talked a lot to the class about judging people, and about coming to the page without judgment.”
I highly recommend My Name is Lucy Barton, which has been lavishly praised by reviewers and other book bloggers and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize.
It has a deceptively simple plot about a young mother in a Manhattan hospital visited by her difficult mother, who she hasn’t seen in years.
The two women are now worlds apart, estranged by distance, education, class, their difficult past, and their own inability to express love and emotion and speak in a direct way about their lives. The writing is powerful yet understated, and unsentimental.
Lucy, raised in rural midwestern poverty and abuse, has reinvented herself in New York City. When her mother visits, Lucy reflects on the harsh childhood and upbringing she never talks about in her new life except occasionally with therapists.
The premise of the novel sounds like a cliché, but this is a page-turner. There is an urgency to Lucy Barton’s story. Strout has a strong sense of what to tell, when to tell it, and what not to tell at all.
I especially like this review in The New York Times by Claire Messud. This is a great choice for book club reading.
Now that I’ve finally discovered Elizabeth Strout long after the rest of the reading world, (she won the Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, which was made into a TV miniseries), I look forward to reading her other novels.
“Sarah Payne, the day she told us to go to the page without judgment, reminded us that we never knew, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully.”
My End-of Summer Reading
Currently on my nightstand are books by authors who were previously chosen for If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book:
To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey (because I loved The Snow Child)
Ladies Night at the Dreamland, by Sonja Livingston (because I loved Ghostbread and Queen of the Fall, and because it’s about women, past and present, known and unknown, in my neck of the woods)
I’m also reading:
The Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing, by Ray Peter Clark
Clark mines great books, short stories, a poem or two, and a few movies for hidden treasures–the secret, powerful techniques of accomplished writers. Taking another look at some of these stories is fascinating: The Great Gatsby; Madame Bovary; A Visit from the Goon Squad; Lolita; A Farewell to Arms; The Bell Jar; Miss Lonelyhearts; “The Lottery”; “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”; “Notorious”; The Goldfinch; and Hiroshima, among others.
What have you read this summer that you love? Let us know by leaving a comment via the link in the left sidebar.
10 thoughts on “My Name Is Lucy Barton”
Glad you enjoyed the read. I didnt enjoy this one much. I wished it was longer. Or maybe I read it at the wrong time. I am eager about Eowyn’s book as well. I have The Snow Child. Have not read it yet. But I have heard excellent reviews.
Eowyn’s new book is fantastic, just finished it.
Lucy is definitely one of my favorite books of 2016…I love what you have to say about it…
Hi, Andrea! Yes, Elizabeth Strout, now that I’ve finally read her, will be on my personal best author list from now on. I just read another novel that absolutely blew me away, and I wonder if you may have already read it. I’m going to write about it in my next post. Thinking that you may really like this one and probably already have it in your store, I know your customers will love it….sorry to be mysterious!
I liked Olive Kitteridge a lot more than her other books. Olive has depths that the Burgess Boys and Lucy lack.
I will have to read that one!
She’s amazing, isn’t she? I will have to get to the books you mention. Thanks so much for stopping by.
Elizabeth Strout has such wisdom! I’ve read Olive Kitteridge (of course), Amy and Isabelle, and The Burgess Boys, but somehow My name is Lucy Barton is still on my TBR list. I must rectify that soon!