My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a collection of stories of people who knew or lived near Lucy Barton, the protagonist in Strout’s 2016 novel “My Name is Lucy Barton”.
I was confused with the first few stories until I realized this was a collection of loosely interconnected stories rather than a novel. A character may be the focus of one story and then referred to later (or earlier) in another story. This made it hard for me to follow (and this could very well be a personal issue). In a novel the numerous characters will be interacting with one another making it easier to keep track of their traits, characteristics, and relationships. Having them brought up in other stories can make it tough reading. I’ll say it again – this could be a problem unique to me.
Nevertheless, Strout does bring up her compelling themes of the truth of personal history, and of grace. The first story is the best; Tommy lives his life based on his knowledge of a seminal event in this life; later he realizes there is another cause or interpretation of this event. “And then Tommy understood; that what he had kept from her their whole lives was, in fact, easily acceptable to her, and what he would keep from her now – his doubt (his sudden belief that God had never come to him) – was a new secret replacing the first.”[p 31] How does a person move forward from that?
[End Spoiler alert]
We also encounter some stories of grace and a glimpse into the unknowable. “Almost always, it’s a surprise, the passing of permission to enter a place once seen as eternally closed. And this is how it was for a stunned Linda, who stood that day in that convenience store with the sun falling over packages of corn chips and heard those words of compassion – undeserved,…'[p90]. And, “Abel felt not fear but a strange exquisite joy, the bliss of things finally and irretrievably out of his control.”[p 253]
Come the end of the day I enjoyed Elizabeth Strout’s writing (once I got past my initial confusion). My recommendation for someone diving into Strout’s works for the first time is start with “The Burgess Boys” then “Amy and Isabelle” or “Olive Kitteridge”. And you’d probably be better off reading “My Name is Lucy Barton” immediately before this.
Do you have have the thought that maybe you’ve missed something big after reading a book? I did with this one; perhaps these stories are linked together more tightly than I realize. I may even go back and read Lucy Barton and this back to back to get a better handle on it. Maybe – I said maybe.