Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

TitleLucy by the Sea
AuthorElizabeth Strout
FinishedFebruary 16, 2023
Additional InfoA New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”
Goodreads Choice award nominee
4+ rating on Amazon with 12,849 ratings

This is the fourth novel by Elizabeth Strout’s about Lucy Barton [The Amgash Series]. In her previous novel – Oh, William! – Lucy’s and William – her first husband – help each other with their grief. As this latest novel starts William takes Lucy out of New York City to safety in Maine as the COVID pandemic hits.  Lucy suffered loneliness of early Spring on the cold Maine coast

“[M]y mind was having trouble taking things in. It was as though each day was like a huge stretch of ice I had to walk over. And in the ice were small trees stuck there and twigs, this is the only way I can describe it, as though the world had become a different landscape and I had to make it through each day without knowing when it would stop, and it seemed it would not stop, and so I felt a great uneasiness.”

Page 59

I could relate to that metaphor about working my way through COVID. Unsurprisingly Strout uses sea metaphors to describe Lucy’s moods.

“The ocean was a huge comfort to me somehow, and those two islands were always there. The sadness that rose and fell in me was like the tides.”

Page 79

And then a few pages later.

“I did not know how I felt about William. My feelings changed about him, they went up and down like the tides.”

Page 88

Elizabeth Strout’s biggest recurring theme is how our past – our childhood in particular – shapes our present. And Lucy suffers from her childhood where she was deprived and abused. She compares her childhood with her current situation.

“But I was so sad that evening; I understood – as I have understood at different points in my life – that the childhood isolation of fear and loneliness would never leave me. My childhood had been a lockdown.”

Page 174

We also learn (well it wasn’t hard to figure out) why William chose Maine as their fortress; he reaches out once more to his step-sister whom he didn’t know existed until the previous novel. William also learns more about his grandfather. Although William wasn’t aware of his grandfather’s crimes of the past; when he does learn of them it reaches through the years and affects him. 

In my report on Oh William!, I noted how Lucy continually says things along the line of “What I mean is”  or “My point is.” She continues that approach here with lines like “I need to say:”. At first I thought it was odd that Lucy – a novelist by trade – would say things like that. Authors just tell it without the need to have the qualifiers. But reading through this I came to see that it is a way of Strout showing that this is the rough draft of Lucy’s life.

I love an extended metaphor of ping pong balls that Lucy uses. We are all ping pong balls bouncing crazily from wall to wall and occasionally bounce into other people and the impact changes the direction of both people; sometimes just a bit and sometimes a lot. At one point she muses that

“…it seemed that my ping-pong ball could not touch his right now. We are alone in these things that we suffer.” 

Page 195

Strout includes characters from her other novels. Bob Burgess, Isabelle, and Olive Kitteridge. Bob is a big character in this book; she is a big supporter of Lucy and thinks of her as very brave – which is the opposite of what Lucy thinks of herself.

Wow; looking back on this it seems like such a depressing novel; while it plenty of sadness, what else would you expect from a book about the pandemic years? Elizabeth Strout is an excellent writer and shows us the world through her eyes – which is what literature is supposed to do. 

When Elizabeth Strout releases a new novel, I invariably move it to the top of my virtual “to read” pile. But, don’t read this as your first Elizabeth Strout novel. For one thing it is the fourth book in a continuum of stories about Lucy. She even appears as a minor character in some of her earlier novels. Olive Kitteridge is Strout’s most famous novel, but I recommend starting with The Burgess Boys – my favorite.

One thought on “Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

  1. I really enjoy your reviews, Howard. And I have also loved every one of Strout’s novels; they are so relatable to ordinary people.

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