“My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout Review by Mandy MikulencakI couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of “My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout. The author wrote one of my favorite books of all time, Pulitzer-Prize winner “Olive Kitteridge.” You’d never describe Strout’s style of storytelling as plot-driven. The characters are the gold that Strout spins.
This is a complicated little book (a short 209 pages) that focuses on a five-day period where Lucy Barton’s estranged mother from Amgash, Illinois, visits her in a Manhattan hospital. Over the course of the visit, mother and daughter reconnect by talking superficialities, such as gossip about neighbors in the small town where Lucy grew up. Beneath the superficial, however, is a raw, slow reveal of Lucy’s childhood: the poverty, abuse and hardship that caused Lucy to put her past and parents behind her. While the visit is a flash from Lucy’s future, after her divorce and the death of both parents, the jumps between past, present and future feel natural, as if a friend is telling us a story and must fill us in on details once forgotten and now remembered.
The book’s been called emotional and soulful. It’s those things for sure. But it’s a tough (emotional) read because of Strout’s ability to capture the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, especially those so wrought with blame and longing. I felt a bit put through the wringer after finishing the novel, but didn’t regret taking another chance to read Strout’s powerful prose.
Local author Mandy Mikulencak’s first novel, “Burn Girl,” debuted in September 2015. Her next novel, “The Last Suppers,” will be published in 2017.