© 2023 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Make Space for Strout in Your Reading Life

© Dario Lasagni

Reading any novel by Elizabeth Strout is an opportunity to let immaculate sentences, uncanny insight into what it means to be human, and surprising, life-changing incidents permeate your entire being.

My Name is Lucy Barton, Strout’s fifth novel, is set in contemporary New York and is a portrait of a woman who has escaped a barren, poverty-stricken childhood to become a writer, wife, and mother, a path she stumbles down with grace. Ultimately, Lucy Barton is a woman with keen insight who can, through her writing, get deep into the nature of what it is to live a life, with a capital L.

Lucy Barton, a wife and mother of two young daughters, is hospitalized after complications from a surgery. Her estranged mother arrives at the bequest of Lucy’s concerned husband. It is the first time her mother has been on an airplane, and certainly the first time her mother heeded anything her son-in-law suggested. What transpires over several days of interaction is a beautiful love story whose heart and soul is that of any mother and daughter. The bond, when stripped of the minutiae of everyday life, is one of profound belonging. By placing the mother and daughter in the hospital, with the daughter in the unenviable position of being bedridden, Strout isolates these women as they make up names for the nurses, and reflect on the lives of people Lucy knew in childhood for whom things never turned out as well as they seemed, or wanted. Also in the foreground is an acute sense of the loneliness all of us feel as we simultaneously leave behind the past and grasp onto a future that will hold both happiness and heartbreak.

Elizabeth Strout is an artist; her character Lucy Barton is a writer of great skill and insight. They both deserve some space in your reading life.