Rated Reads

My Name Is Lucy Barton

by Elizabeth Strout

Rated: Moderate

From the description inside the front cover:

“Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.”

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it wasn’t always a pleasant read because it deals with such negative topics. Lucy’s childhood was one of abject poverty, abuse and neglect. She managed to rise above it and gains success in her career, but in so doing she alienates her parents. Because of her past, she doesn’t fit in very well in her new life, either, and struggles with her marriage and her children.  Because of the heavy themes, I wouldn’t recommend this to a young reader or someone who wants a happily-ever-after ending.

On the other hand, there’s something very endearing about Lucy. Maybe it’s her desire to tell her story honestly, correcting herself mid-paragraph if she thinks she’s telling something badly. Or maybe it’s her way of impulsively saying “I love him/her” about anyone who has shown her kindness, whether she knows them well or not. Lucy is a flawed, slightly broken individual. But it’s those very flaws that make me think I would be comfortable having her for a friend. She’s real, she’s insightful, and in her story she makes insignificant things seem meaningful.

Probably my favorite part (and also a great description of this book) was something another character said to Lucy about Lucy’s attempt to write her own story: “This is a story about love, you know that. This is a story of a man who has been tortured every day of his life for things he did in the war. This is the story of a wife who stayed with him, because most wives did in that generation, and she comes to her daughter’s hospital room and talks compulsively about everyone’s marriage going bad, she doesn’t even know it, doesn’t even know that’s what she’s doing. This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter. Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly.”

Rated: Moderate. There are one to two mild swear words and three to four strong swear words. There are several references to mild physical abuse (i.e., slapping a child hard) and two references to inappropriate sexual behavior and homosexuality/cross-dressing. Nothing is described at length or in any detail, but the fact that it deals with parents mistreating their children could be somewhat disturbing.

— Reviewed by Jennifer Neal

Jennifer Neal has worked as a third-grade teacher, a Spanish translator, and as a writing TA for an online university. She lives in Santee, California (near San Diego), with her husband and four young children.

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  • My Name Is Lucy Barton
  • by Elizabeth Strout
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: