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:
I’m also reading:
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.