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Archive for the ‘Elizabeth Strout’ Tag

Maternal Ties   Leave a comment

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My Name is Lucy Barton is a statement and not only the title of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel. It’s an affirmation as Lucy reflects on the relationship with her mother, which is like a faulty wire: occasionally there’s no connection.

Lucy is from a rural Illinois town where growing up her family lived so far below the poverty line as to make it seem something to attain. Lucy’s life is revealed as she lies in a hospital bed with a view of the Chrysler Building in New York City talking with her mother whom she hasn’t seen or spoken with in years. Strout is methodical as she merges Lucy’s past with the present.

The rich, stark pacing and imagery serve to expose family dynamics in the narrative. That is, Strout’s writing provides enough detail to shape a situation or character, but not so much that there is little left to the imagination. In fact, this is what makes some aspects harrowing: imagining what life was like for young Lucy. She lived with her older siblings and parents in a garage until age 11.

Her mother’s brief presence provides the vehicle to see Lucy’s past; the extended hospitalization gives Lucy time to consider her adult life as a mother, wife and writer.

Lucy should despise her parents and her past, yet she doesn’t. Her family was shunned and her parents were apparently abusive in their neglect. Lucy is grateful for her mother’s presence. The mother-daughter bond, at least from Lucy’s perspective, overrides past sins.

My Name is Lucy Barton
Four and a half Bookmarks
Random House, 2016
191 pages

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Men Will Be Boys   Leave a comment

Burgessboys

My sons are in their twenties and I still refer to them as the boys. It’s not so unusual, then, that Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel since her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kittridge identifies the 50-something protagonist brothers as The Burgess Boys. Yet, it’s unsettling that they are such poorly matured men.

The backstory of Bob being accidently responsible for his father’s death is almost a character unto itself. This aspect of the novel emerges slowly and evolves, just as everyone else does, providing an especially interesting angle.

Jim is the older brother, the successful, high-achieving one. Bob, on the other hand, is less driven, and far more endearing. He rarely grows weary of Jim’s disparagements toward him, although reading them is tiresome. The boys left their childhood home in Maine years ago to pursue their lives in New York City. Jim is a hot-shot lawyer and Bob, also a lawyer, serves a different clientele. They receive word from their perpetually-unhappy sister (Bob’s twin) in rural Maine that her son is charged with a hate crime. This is the driving narrative, but that backstory is never far behind.

Strout has created a novel full of multiple layers, but not different versions. She provides snapshots of what happens in real life. Some are faded, some in black and white. The characters are heartbreaking in their deception, confusions and naiveté. Unlike Olive Kittridge which was a collection of connections among its characters, The Burgess Boys focuses on a family’s past and present, along with its shortcomings.

 The Burgess Boys
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Random House, 2013
337 pages