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Amgash #1

My Name Is Lucy Barton

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2016)
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. Her unexpected visit forces Lucy to confront the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of her life: her impoverished childhood in Amgash, Illinois, her escape to New York and her desire to become a writer, her faltering 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. In My Name Is Lucy Barton, one of America's finest writers shows how a simple hospital visit illuminates the most tender relationship of all-the one between mother and daughter.

193 pages, Hardcover

First published January 12, 2016

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About the author

Elizabeth Strout

39 books11.6k followers
Elizabeth Strout is the author of several novels, including: Abide with Me, a national bestseller and BookSense pick, and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in England. In 2009 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her book Olive Kitteridge. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker. She teaches at the Master of Fine Arts program at Queens University of Charlotte.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 16,399 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
November 13, 2015
When I first started reading this I had the feeling that it was going to be a remarkable story. It is after all written by Elizabeth Strout. I also thought when I first met Lucy Barton that this was going to be a story about an ordinary woman . I was so wrong about that . In this short book I came to know what an extraordinary character Lucy Barton is . She's someone I'd want to know and a character I'll remember.

It's painfully sad at times in her reminiscences of her life growing up in Amgash , Illinois. She carries the burdens of a none too happy childhood, one of poverty and sometimes abuse , sheltered from the outside world in many ways . There are too few glimpses of joy in this complex , dysfunctional family but yet Lucy still can't help but think, "how our roots were twisted so tenaciously around one another's hearts ."

Lucy remembers hers childhood as the narrative progressives and it moves from present to various times in her past , most notably when she is in the hospital for an extended period of time after routine surgery . This is when her mother, whom she hasn't seen for many years comes to visit her in the hospital in New York . What passes between mother and daughter in these five days while they talk about friends , cousins and marriages that didn't work out , among other things , is pretty amazing . We learn not only about Lucy's past but her present - her marriage and her children but about the capacity for love when it seems an improbable thing.

What I found to be extraordinary about Lucy is that in spite of the past, she knows and has pretty much always known who and what she is . She's a mother who loves her children and she is a writer. In many ways the story is about her writing , but it is also about leaving when you need to, about coming to terms with who you are -the sum total of your past and present . I doubt whether I can do justice in this review to Strout's intelligent and meaningful perceptions about the human condition so you'll have to read it yourself when it is published in January , 2016. Highly recommended!

I am grateful to Random House Publishing Group - Random House and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy .
Profile Image for Debbie.
454 reviews2,891 followers
February 6, 2016
When I finished this book, I didn’t think I landed in wowsville. But after sticking my nose back into the book, I’m changing my tune. Every page I reread seemed rich and wow-y. So what the hell’s going on? This is all very confusing.

First, here’s the plot, the whole plot, and nothing but the plot: Lucy (the storyteller) is lying in the hospital and her estranged mother comes from afar and sits there for five days. And I really mean she just sits there, except for sharing a few laughs—like giving the nurses funny names—and blathering on about the sad fate of various women from their hometown. (Ah, and the hometown is called Amgash. Is that supposed to be a disguise for Anguish?) Mostly the room is filled with awkward silence or silly gossip. But thanks to first-person narrative, we get to see inside Lucy’s head: about her growing up in poverty, being abused, rising above it all, plus her constant worry about whether her mother loves her. There are hints of affection, like when her mom calls her by a nickname. Lucy stays pretty stoical, and yearns for more.

One of my gripes is that both Lucy and her mother are too damn passive for me. And they’re underground, too--they don’t dare let each other know what’s really going on in their head. Often passive people simultaneously annoy me (spit it out already), bore me (move it, why don’t you?), and make me nervous (damn it, let me know what’s going on!). Despite this, I felt deeply for Lucy. See? I’m all confused!

Another gripe is that I found the language sort of dull, especially since I had just read the jazzy Dear Mr. You. Lucy’s story felt like it was coated with a Valium; there wasn’t a loud pulse. Give me edge and I’m happier. Still, when I poked my nose into the book later, the language seemed smooth and cool in a gentle way, and it was inviting. Not a yawnfest, not Hallmarky, and authentic as hell.

Yet another gripe: I know the story focuses on Lucy and mom, but I was frustrated not to find out more about what was going on in her current family. Everything seemed too vague. It also seemed unrealistic that hubby and kids didn’t visit her in the hospital much.

The final gripe is that most of Lucy’s childhood horrors are vague—I wanted vivid. There’s one rich image of Lucy and a truck, and it’s a doozy. But other signs of abuse were only hinted at. It was as muted as a Monet painting. Put the story in focus, damn it! Show me the details! I want to know exactly what happened to Lucy. If a friend told me a heavy story of her life and skimmed over the important parts, I’d be frustrated as hell. Don’t gloss over the It and leave me hanging! It’s not like I live to watch train wrecks, but I don’t like hearing half a story. I wanted to hear about Lucy’s childhood traumas (and also about her dissolving marriage), not just get handed little fragments. When I closed the book, it felt like there was some big chunk missing, a big hole.

Nothing much happens in this book; it’s all introspective and psychological, recollection and insight. And that part I like, a lot. The juice is invisible—it’s the rubber-band-tight tension that’s created when Lucy and her mom are in the same room. This juice is what bumps the book up into wowsville.

The book makes you think about big things. Like how we never escape from our past or the pain that was planted in us when we were growing up—Lucy’s sadness, for instance, will never entirely go away. And it gets you thinking about mom-daughter relationships. Is there always love between mothers and their children just because? And if the love is never expressed verbally, does it feel okay? Is it enough? Are we sure it’s really love?

Strout’s strength is in knowing how to build tension without being all screamy and in creating a complex and insightful character who you feel deeply for. Eyes are averted, truths are not uttered, emotions stay hidden. What’s going on is subtle; we have to read between the lines. It's what isn't said that twists you all up inside, it’s the undercurrent that gets you. There’s melancholy and there’s longing, and there’s tenderness, regret, and acceptance. All powerful stuff. Yeah, I landed in wowsville, even if it’s sort of quiet here.

Thank you, NetGalley, for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Justin.
284 reviews2,300 followers
January 21, 2023
Read this one again six years later, and my thoughts from 2017 below still hold up. Halfway through this book, I rushed to the library and checked out the other three Amgash books, and I’ll probably read them all this month.


February 2017 Review:

Elizabeth Strout. Good Lord.

This book had the same effect on me as Olive Kitteridge. I'm reading through this beautifully written, way too short novel, and the whole time I'm thinking about my own life and my past and my family and my relationships with others. She takes this simple story, written like a memoir or something, I guess... kind of quick flashes of stories from the past and present, and it's just wonderful. It's so good.

But the whole time as I'm learning more about Lucy, it's like a mirror is being turned back at me forcing me to get all introspective and making me reflect on things deep within myself. God, it's amazing how a short work of fiction can do that, and this is twice now that Strout has done it to me. The whole time I'm reading through the book, I have this weight pressing down on me. Lucy Barton and I don't even have much in common at all, but her life and the lives of others feel so real, like I'm somewhere in the mix with them as an unspoken background character.

Elizabeth Strout can do more in one paragraph than most authors can do with several pages. Her writing is so simple yet so beautiful. So easy to read yet so powerful. The stories she weaves together and the way she shares them left me turning the pages feverishly with my mouth permanently hung open, eyes not blinking, thinking about crying, but trying to be tough about the whole thing.

I don't even want to tell you what it's about because it doesn't even matter. She could write about what she ate for breakfast and it would probably have some significant impact on your life. There's a paragraph about the sun going down that is just perfect. I can't... man... I just don't even know what to say anymore. Thank you, Ms. Strout for another small book that punched me right in the heart. I'm still trying to get up off the floor.
Profile Image for Lynne.
610 reviews59 followers
November 11, 2015
I must have read a different version of the book than everyone else. My version was more like notes where each note could have been formed into a chapter and the chapters could have been organized into a story. If it is the actual novel that I just finished, I'm completely missing the point. Sorry. But thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to attempt to understand this novel.
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,265 reviews2,439 followers
March 12, 2023
This book tells you the story of Lucy Barton, who is recovering from an operation in the hospital. Her mother comes to visit her and stays with her for some days. The silent chemistry between them is intriguing. Elizabeth Strout marvelously crafts the invisible love and tension between them. It discusses many vital topics like mother-daughter relationships, abuse, poverty, and AIDS both directly and indirectly. This is a book that you can finish reading quickly but makes you think for a long time.
“It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”

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Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
November 22, 2016
This is a story about a woman who loves her daughter. Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly.

Depressing as hell. But I enjoyed wallowing in it for a while.

My Name Is Lucy Barton covers a life story, poverty, abuse, art, marriage, the AIDs epidemic and subsequent fear, and a difficult relationship between a mother and daughter, all in less than two hundred pages. It's quite emotionally exhausting for such a short book but - perhaps because I had so few prior expectations - I found myself completely immersed in the story.

All of the aforementioned themes are framed around Lucy Barton's stay in the hospital after an appendectomy results in complications. Her estranged mother visits out of concern and around this visit, through conversations and journeys into both the past and future, Lucy's life and relationships are revealed.

There are some truly heartbreaking scenes scattered throughout this short novel, with the ultimate focus being on family and the breaking and tying of familial bonds. I now completely understand why many of my friends call Olive Kitteridge depressing without any ray of light or hope in sight. I don't think this is quite that bad, but thinking back on the parts that drew emotions out of me, I realise that all of them were sad.

A really quite beautiful novel, but read it when you're in a happy place.

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Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,714 followers
March 27, 2020
This book! I really can’t stop thinking about this book. What at first felt like a simple, quietly understated series of snapshots of a woman’s life, has turned into a powerful novel that packs its punch through everything that is not spoken. Beautifully expressed with sparse prose, My Name is Lucy Barton left me breathless and, I have to admit, a bit teary by book’s end.

"Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me." Lucy Barton’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois was burdened by poverty, isolation, abuse and a feeling of inferiority. She escaped these hardships and cultivated a new life with a husband and two daughters in New York City, in addition to a career in writing. She is now sitting in a hospital bed following a surgical infection when her estranged mother appears at her bedside to keep her company during her recovery. Mother and daughter sit in the shadow of the Chrysler building and chat about people and life back in Amgash. It seems the Chrysler building, with all its brilliant lights, is a symbol of what Lucy has attained through her liberation of sorts. At the same time, perhaps the shadow it casts is a reminder of the darkness that still lurks within Lucy’s soul. Lucy yearns to talk to her mother about her life now and perhaps extract a sign of approval for her achievements. But she never demands it; never says ‘look at me and see how I’ve triumphed despite all.’ She hungers to hear those three words that she has never heard spoken aloud by her mother, 'I love you.' Mother and daughter mostly speak of other people they knew back home, avoiding the nitty gritty details of their own troubled lives and relationships. We get snatches of what lies beneath the surface through Lucy’s inner reflections, but never quite journey to the real core of the family’s dysfunction. It’s hinted at, however, and one cannot help but feel the anguish underlying the young Lucy’s life, as well as the sorrow that she may still carry, but around which she has been able to adapt. She is hopeful and thankful for small kindnesses. I loved that about her. "Many of us have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers, but after a while it sounds trite, like a bumper sticker. And that’s what makes me sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker."

I don’t want to reveal too much more of this wonderful little book. I will say that once again I found myself meditating about my own mother-daughter relationships – that between me and my mother as well as the one between me and my daughter. I thought about the memories of my own childhood, some good, some bad – fortunately nothing as traumatic or dysfunctional as was alluded to in this story. I considered how those memories change over time and how they have shaped my own attitudes, behaviors, and bond with my own daughter. "This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true." Is this how we adapt – either by forgetting the bad memories or dulling them until we can cope with them? Or is this simply a way of forgiving in order to move on with our own lives? Offering forgiveness is not easy, but it is freeing and life-giving, and I think Lucy taught me a little bit more about this priceless gift.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
December 1, 2015
I am totally in awe of this writer's talents. Whether one likes her characters or not (and truthfully some are unlikable if understandable, she makes the reader feel something. In this novel she takes a woman looking back on the nine weeks she spent in the hospital (I can relate) when her two daughters were young. The few days her mother spent at her bedside, a mother she has been estranged from for many years, and tries to find a sort of peace or at least understanding of the family she has left.

There is a kind of tenderness, a gentleness in the telling of Lucy's story. As readers we always want the author to show us not just tell and Strout does just that. The voice of Lucy is not overly full of emotion rather her story evokes the emotion in us, the reader. Mother, daughter relationships are all different and yet I think many times complicated. Things from the past do turn up and affect us in many ways. There are so many poignant moments here, in this short book, conversations between mother and daughter do not center on what happened between them but are often about the marriages of other people they had both known. The focus in on Lucy's life and past, things that mattered to her that she had never been able to overcome.

Did her mother ever really love her? That is what you will have to read this book to find out.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,192 reviews1,816 followers
January 29, 2023


Una Strout diversa da quella cui sono abituato, una gradita sorpresa: via da Shirley Falls, Maine, più reticente del solito, con scrittura meno fluida, più spezzata.

E che invece continui nel solco noto ad attingere al pozzo eterno delle relazioni familiari è cosa buona e giusta: la famiglia è un topos inesauribile, come s’insegna in qualsiasi corso di scrittura creativa, televisiva e cinematografica incluse. E come ci insegnano i classici, a cominciare da quelli greci. La stessa Strout definisce questo suo romanzo semplicemente la storia di una madre e di una figlia. Un lessico familiare.

Laura Linney è stata Lucy Barton nell’adattamento teatrale del romanzo.

I ragazzi Burgess, il romanzo precedente della Strout, esordiva con un prologo in prima persona nel quale si accennava al difficile rapporto della narratrice con la madre, alla difficoltà di esprimere il sentimento, un blocco che veniva superato come spesso succede sconfinando su un terreno neutro, le chiacchiere di paese, in questo caso la famiglia Burgess. Prima di passare dalla prima alla terza persona, Strout lasciava una frase che sembrava scolpita su pietra: Nessuno conosce mai veramente qualcuno.

Sembrerebbe un prologo perfetto anche per questo nuovo romanzo.
Se non che Lucy va un bel passo oltre: se nessuno conosce mai veramente qualcuno, come si può giudicare, men che meno condannare?
E quindi, bentornata mamma, di te ricordo cose belle, a dire il vero ricordo solo quelle, i momenti d’amore, di protezione, i gesti risolti, l’accoglienza…


Mi piace la vista dalla finestra della camera d’ospedale che accoglie Lucy Barton per nove settimane (una banale operazione di appendicite si complica per un’infezione e la costringe a un ricovero prolungato): il Chrysler Building, quel magnifico grattacielo sulla 42esima a Manhattan.
Nel frattempo intorno scorrono le figure importanti della sua vita, quali presenti in carne e ossa, come la madre che appare inattesa e si ferma per cinque giorni durante i quali sembra non dormire e non nutrirsi, o il marito, quali invece presenti nei racconti, nei pensieri, nella rievocazione letteraria.

Lucy Barton ha alle spalle un’infanzia che nessuno può invidiarle: povertà più miseria più indigenza più freddo più fame più sporcizia più ignoranza più…
Come la Lenù dell’Amica Geniale, e al contrario di Gatsby, si è affrancata da un inizio di vita a dir poco azzoppante tramite studio, conquista della cultura, il mestiere di scrivere.
Adesso vive a New York, ha sostituito il cielo della provincia da cui proviene con la gente (A New York al posto del cielo abbiamo la gente).

Edward Hopper: Room In Brooklyn, 1932.

Lucy Barton ripensa/rivive/ricalibra il suo passato e il suo presente raccontandolo al lettore: lo fa sbalzando i piani temporali, anche il periodo del ricovero è parte del passato, il tempo della scrittura è più recente, e tante cose succedono e sono successe prima che il romanzo sia completo (separazioni, divorzi, matrimoni, riappacificazioni… l’intero corredo di tutte le storie familiari): Ci fu un tempo, ormai molti anni fa, in cui dovetti trascorrere quasi nove settimane in ospedale. Succedeva a New York e la notte, dal mio letto, vedevo davanti a me il grattacielo Chrysler con la sua scintillante geometria di luci.

Che Lucy sia una scrittrice e ci parli di suoi colleghi, come la Sarah Payne conosciuta in uno di quei negozi di abbigliamento per cui New York è famosa, arricchisce queste pagine di osservazioni sul mestiere di scrivere che ho trovato belle e preziose.

Che Strout mi risparmi il suo consueto finale alla melassa è un altro regalo che ho apprezzato.

Edward Hopper: Early Sunday Morning, 1930.

Fin qui ciò che mi ha convinto e mi è piaciuto.
C’è purtroppo uno snodo di trama che trovo basilare e che Strout mi spiega male, dà quasi per scontato, non motiva, non costruisce, e lì il romanzo incespica, gravemente secondo me.
Mi chiedo come sia possibile che una famiglia come quella Barton d’origine, che Lucy definisce malata, e suo marito le ricorda quanto poco le piacessero i suoi parenti (madre, padre, fratello e sorella) – dove il padre è un mostro, anche violento, capace di trattamenti genitoriali da manuale horror – il tutto con acquiescenza connivenza e complicità materna – una famiglia che definire anaffettiva è eufemistico - al punto che da grande il fratello si corica con i maiali la notte prima che vengano macellati, e legge ancora i libri per bambini, quelli sulla gente della prateria – com’è che con questa premessa Lucy e sua madre trascorrono cinque giorni insieme in un clima così idilliaco.

Aggiungo che avrei preferito Strout evitasse il breve accenno all’11 settembre che per farmi capire da lei mi viene da definire corny.

Il suono del granturco che cresce e del mio cuore che si spezza sono tutt’uno.

Edward Hopper: Untitled (Rooftops), 1926.

Loneliness was the first flavour I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden in the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,480 followers
March 7, 2016
**Updating this to 5★**I was totally captivated by this soulful, unassuming narrative that packs a punch of emotion. An ordinary story with an extraordinary character. The narrative begins with Lucy Barton reflecting on her life from the hospital bed where she spent 8 weeks after getting an infection from surgery. During this time, her mother whom she is estranged with, visits and stays for 5 meaningful days. She recalls her upbringing - the tough times and fleetingly disturbing moments that aren’t delved into too deeply but remembered with clarity; she speaks of the people in her life, their impact and how grateful she is to them all; her flawed life she acknowledges honestly with raw emotion. A powerful short book that is filled with the wisdom that only comes with age. My first Strout.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews598 followers
October 22, 2015
UPDATE: It came to my attention I may have given too much 'detail' information. (shame on me)... SPOILERS may be included in review.

Lucy and her family grew up in a tiny rural town of Amgash, Illinois. "We were oddities, our family".
Lucy had a brother and a sister. They all understood that they were different than other
children. "Your family stinks"....(children would tease). The Barton family was poor, often in need of a bar of soap.
The father worked on farm machinery ( fired & rehired often). The mother took in sewing.
Most nights supper was molasses on bread...and the kids were often ravenous.
There was punishment and there was isolation.

After learning the above 'basic' information at the start of this novel ...is when a dance takes place between the reader and author's storytelling. ( a complex dance ... with sophisticated choreography going on - layers upon layers of topics are provided to grapple with).

Jumping Ahead: 1980's
Lucy is an adult, married with two daughters ...and in the hospital. Her mother, whom she has
not seen in many years comes for a 5 day visit. They have not seen each other in years. Her mother doesn't leave the hospital once - or accept a roll-a-way bed to sleep in. Her mother sits
in a chair next to Lucy's hospital bed day & night- and doesn't seem to sleep.
What conversations take place during these 5 days? How do you imagine Lucy feels? How do you imagine 'mom' would feel?
I suspect the dynamics of the family relationships in this story might be more common
than people would like to believe. Many children came from challenging childhoods. ( I did) Or had parents that were judgmental, critical, and the demeaning.
Often adult kids are emotionally distant with their parents. Some of these adult kids never make peace with their history - others do.

Lucy is a writer. She shares with us 'many' past memories -- in no chronological order--
but what really stands out ...( we can feel her passion and pride), is when she shares about
her journey, her process in becoming a writer. Lucy learns from life - teachers- she is an 'opening' for growth and being the source of her own life.
Her mother shares stories about old friends, yet she can't seem to bring herself to talk about
anything personal in Lucy's life- or their life together.
I got the feeling Lucy's mother was afraid her daughter might write horrible stories
about the dysfunctions in the family.... and that maybe if she could feed Lucy stories about
'other' people, she might forget writing anything personal.

There were insights:
Lucy started to notice a few of the things she shared in common with her mother.
For example: neither wanted to be judged by what they were reading. ... They both lived with
a type of worry, "How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another?"
Lucy was aware when strangers were judgmental of the clothes she was wearing.....
At the same time she has often been thankful to them kindness of strangers.

I love this line:
I have sometimes been sad that Tennessee Williams wrote that line for Blanche DuBois,
"I have always depended on kindness of strangers." Many of us have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers, but after a while it sounds trite, like a bumper sticker. And that's what sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on a superficial sound of a bumper sticker."

There is absolutely nothing superficial in this novel. By the time I came to the end I
felt I had just had a conversation with loving thoughtful friend, the type that leaves you feeling richer from the shared experience.

Thank You Random House Publishing, Netgalley, and Elizabeth Strout! (I loved this)

Profile Image for Kelli.
851 reviews404 followers
February 2, 2016
This book is universally loved by my friends and I understand why that is, though I can't embrace this book as others have. I admire the style of it and I acknowledge that the story was deliberately designed and assembled as it was, even though that was the piece that kept me from connecting with it the way others have. There were solid, valuable messages in this gentle story delivered in a tentative and scattered way. At times I felt as though I was listening in on a casual conversation between mother and daughter, while at other times I felt I was on the receiving end of an interview with Lucy. This story spoke to me but also left me wanting. 3 stars.
Profile Image for Agnieszka.
258 reviews932 followers
March 2, 2020

I had some expectations about My Name Is Lucy Barton and truly wanted to like it more. I liked the premise – difficult relationship between daughter and mother and chance to make amends. I didn’t expect sudden reconciliation or instant falling into arms. I know sometimes people just can’t talk about love, can’t show what they feel. They live quietly, have children. Sometimes these kids understand and can get over it and make own life happy.

I hoped for multilayered portrait of family but it was too shallow and distant, too ascetic in fact. Hunger, poverty, loneliness, difficult childhood. Sure hit, you say. Only it was too clichéd and now and then just unbearably sentimental. It felt like collection of vignettes without deeper thought, some scraps that read more like a draft than a proper novel. I love quiet heroes of every day, I back up them in their struggling, I don’t expect them to be bigger than life. I believe that where love is even the shabbiest hole feels like home. I wanted to know why Lucy's father acted so cruelly towards her brother. And what I got? Platitudes how she felt seeing haggard people dying of AIDS or endless stories about neighbours that led nowhere actually. Instead of hearing about nurses at hospital I wanted to know her siblings. I wished she tried to analyze her marriage. I wanted ... just wanted more her.

That novel had potential but was too fragmentary to give fuller and in-depth picture. Lucy Barton, you could do better, you’re a writer and you could give me your story instead of casting at me some vague snippets and shreds to pick them up. Vagueness neither lent your story complexity and psychological depth nor made its protagonist more human. I wished I could know you better but you barely showed me your blurred silhouette.
Profile Image for Julie G.
896 reviews2,925 followers
October 22, 2021
I once knew a woman who had two daughters and a penchant for drama. Whenever I'd ask about her daughters, whether it was to inquire about their general health or their progress in school, she'd place her hand over her chest and declare, “one daughter is my heart, the other is my soul.”

It was so over the top, and sometimes I'd throw up in my mouth a little when she said this. To be honest, I never really even understood what in the hell she meant.

Until now.

I understand her proclamation now, and it's not because I also have two daughters (at the time of this writing: one is a pain in my intestines, the other is a pain in my neck—sorry, but they've been fighting like savages all week).

It's because now I can tell you. . . Lucy Barton is my heart, Olive Kitteridge is my soul.

So. . . what does it mean, or what do I mean? (And do you feel like throwing up in your mouth?)

For me it means: I am nothing like Lucy Barton, but I love her and I am fascinated by who she is, and I am Olive Kitteridge. We are one and the same.

I think it is lovely (and fascinating) that I have been given the opportunity to connect to these two very different fictional creations in this way. I can love them for their differences and similarities and sit back and let them be. Let them stumble and soar through the different aspects of their lives and just be grateful that I was allowed these precious, small glimpses of their interior worlds.

I think of Jeremy telling me I had to be ruthless to be a writer. . . But really, the ruthlessness, I think, comes in grabbing onto myself, in saying: This is me, and I will not go where I can't bear to go. . . and I will not stay in a marriage when I don't want to, and I will grab myself and hurl onward through life, blind as a bat, but on I go!

Oh, Ms. Strout. You make me feel positively ruthless.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews47 followers
May 1, 2022
My Name Is Lucy Barton (Amgash #1), Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton is a 2016 novel by the American writer Elizabeth Strout. Lucy Barton had a difficult childhood. Her father was abusive and while her mother loved Lucy, she was unable to protect her or her siblings from their father's mercurial mood swings. As a result Lucy would frequently take solace in reading, which led her to realize that she wanted to become a writer. When she came of age, Lucy quickly fled the family home. Years later Lucy is hospitalized after she develops an infection following an operation. During her stay her mother comes to visit and the two reconnect after years of not speaking to one another.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «من لوسی بارتون هستم»؛ «نام من لوسی بارتون است»؛ نویسنده: الیزابت استرات (استروت)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و هفتم ماه اکتبر سال2017میلادی

عنوان: من لوسی بارتون هستم؛ نویسنده: الیزابت استرات (استروت)؛ مترجم: مریم سرلک؛ ویراستار: مینو ابوذر‌جمهری؛ تهران، نشر کتاب کوله‌ پشتی‏‫؛ سال‏‫‏‏‏‏1395؛ در143ص؛ شابک9786008211211؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده20م‬‬

عنوان: من لوسی بارتون هستم؛ نویسنده: الیزابت استروت؛ مترجم: پریدوخت انصاری؛ تهران انگیزه مهر‏‫، سال1395؛ در154ص؛ شابک9786008325079؛‬

عنوان: نام من لوسی بارتون است؛ نویسنده: الیزابت استروت؛ مترجم: سمیه داننده؛ تهران هنر پارینه‏‫، سال1395؛ در154ص؛ شابک9786005981650؛‬

عنوان: من لوسی بارتون هستم؛ نویسنده: الیزابت استروت؛ مترجم نیلوفر داد؛ ویراستار بابک حقایق؛ تهران قاصدک صبا‏‫، سال‏‫1396؛ در160ص؛ شابک9786005675337؛‬‬

عنوان: من لوسی بارتون هستم؛ نویسنده الیزابت استروت؛ مترجم سارا اقبالی؛ تهران نشر سولار، سال‏‫1398؛ در180ص؛ شابک9786226398145؛

‬لوسی دختری از خانواده ای بسیار نادار است، که کودکی بسیار دشواری را در کنار کم محبتیها، و رفتار نادرست پدر و مادر خویش، سپری کرده است؛ اما با دوست داشتن و خوانش کتاب میتواند، بورسیه ی دانشگاه بگیرد؛ با این رخداد روند زندگی «لوسی بارتون» دیگر میشود، و از خانواده خود جدا میگردد و…؛

در پیگیری داستان، «لوسی» بیمار شده، و در بیمارستان بستری میشود؛ مادرش پس از پانزده سال، به بیمارستان میآید، و به مدت پنج روز در بیمارستان، از او نگهداری میکند؛ با این رویداد یادمانهایی بازگو میشوند، تا شاید بتوان بگذشته ها را فراموش کرد، اما…؛

نقل نمونه متن: (به‌ جز «جرمی»، تنها دوست دیگری که در مدت زندگی در آن منطقه داشتم، یک زن «سوئدی» قدبلند بود، به نام «مولا»؛ ده سالی از من بزرگ‌تر بود، اما مثل من بچه‌ ی کوچک داشت؛ یکروز که می‌خواست بچه‌ هایش را به پارک ببرد، جلو در خانه‌ ما ایستاد، به صحبت کردن از زندگی شخصیش؛ در مورد اینکه مادرش با او رفتار خوبی نداشته است، حرف زد، و تعریف کرد؛ وقتی بچه‌ ی اولش را به دنیا آورده بوده، دچار افسردگی شده و متخصص روان‌پزشک گفته بود، که ریشه ی غم و اندوهش، در کمبود محبتی است، که در کودکی از جانب مادرش حس می‌کرده، و…)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 11/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 10/02/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
November 11, 2015
I had the luxury of reading My name Is Lucy Barton in one sitting -- and if you can that's how I highly recommend this very short jewel of a novel be read. It's hard to describe what it's about. At its core it's a contemplative novel -- a novel about trying to make sense of life, trying to see how all the pieces fit together. Lucy Barton spends 9 weeks in the hospital in the 1980s in New York City following complications from a surgery. The story is written many years later, with her time in the hospital as her focal point -- but the time span runs from her childhood to the present. Her mother comes to stay with her in the hospital for a few days, which leads Lucy to dwell on her childhood of utter poverty in rural Illinois and her fraught relationship with her parents and siblings. Her husband and young daughters don't visit her much, which leads her to think about loneliness, her marriage and motherhood. And she also muses about writing, what it means to her, and how she was inspired by a number of people, including another author. For such a short novel, it's dense with story, thoughts and emotions. It's more of an experience than a story. A great little book to be savoured. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
July 6, 2019
"Pity Us All, We Don't Mean to be So Small"

Lucy's Manhattan hosp. room had breathtaking view of Chrysler Building, and the skyscraper's light at night “shone like the beacon it was of the largest and best hopes for mankind and its aspirations and desire for beauty”

This is the story of Lucy Barton, who grew up in great poverty and suffered her parents’ neglect and abuse in the farmlands of Illinois and went on to became a successful fiction writer in New York City. Poignant and profound on so many different levels, Lucy Barton’s tale about herself is also a tale of many people in her life and an exploration of their human condition from the random kindness of strangers to those who thrived on the most basest of needs in humans to find ways to feel superior to others by putting them down* (in this book, the prejudices were based primarily on social status (poor), regional distinctions (Southern, read “trash,” "cheapies"), and sexuality).

It is a story that was maybe most heartrending for me in painting the pain of Lucy as a child who now, as an adult, must face the gradual realization of the pain she inflicted on her daughters, under her stormy truth that whether the pain to the child comes from the parents' neglect and abuse (Lucy's parents) or from the breakup of the parents' marriage (Lucy):
...I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”
This story shows how some of us simply cannot bear to face the harm we have done and so we lash out at all around us with unfair, ignorant judgments to make ourselves feel superior, or we erect silly walls of silence (as if by closing our eyes and pretending to nap, it shall disappear) to protect ourselves from acknowledging our faults, responsibilities and past mistakes. The story shows how some among us are apparently incapable of communicating our feelings of love, gratitude and forgiveness and are unable to grant the smallest measures of redemption.

It’s a story of Lucy Barton’s father “who was tortured every day of his life for things he did during the war,” and of her mother as his “wife who stayed with him because most did during those days and she comes to her daughter’s hospital room and talks compulsively about everyone’s marriage going bad and she doesn’t even know that’s what she’s doing. This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter imperfectly.”

This short novel also provides an unflinching look at the raw and unconditional love of children even in the face of a parent’s neglect or inability to reciprocate affections (the latter is, to me, one of the most jolting psychically and nearly the most calamitous in all of human relationships in its likelihood to continue in a grievous cycle); how the parents' failures in their obligations to their kids is likely to negatively alter the child’s view of their life in general, such that some children just assume defeat (as being the cause of the parent's neglect, abuse or lack of affection) as did Lucy's brother, some are absolutely consumed by anger and resentment toward the parents as being the cause of everything negative in their life, as did Lucy's sister, and others, such as Lucy Barton, have accepted their parents' character defects as part of who their parents were/are, accepted that neither they nor their parents can change the past, and these children such as Lucy have been blessed with the capacity to forgive (one of the most difficult gifts in the world to give.... yourself).

Ugolino and His Sons, Jean-Baptiste, 1865-1867
In sculpture garden of NY Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lucy read placard and "the children are offering themselves as food to their father. He is being starved to death in prison and these children only want one thing: to have their father’s distress disappear, they would allow him to eat them. And Lucy thought, 'pity us all, we don’t mean to be so small.'”

And the story offers hope and redemption: when a child like Lucy of such a mother as hers can write a story describing her love for her mother, despite her mom’s inability to ever say “I love you” or to kiss her daughter, to in a way forgive her mother but also make other people understand that this may be shocking to you, but at least for Lucy Barton, “It was alright” (in hindsight).

The little novel was also particularly significant to me in its reflection of writing as an art of creating truths that can maybe only be told through fiction. I thought of how the task of writing fiction could be wondrous in certain of the ways in which we view life. It seemed to me, Elizabeth Strout's alter ego was Sarah Payne, who appears a few times as Lucy's writing instructor and a sort of mentor. Sarah Payne offered that the job as a writer of fiction is “to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are, and what we think and what we do,” that the writer must come to the page without judgment and with “a heart as open as the heart of God.” These are the ways I'd like to view real life in its contemplation.

Sarah P. also told Lucy that, "if you find yourself protecting anyone while you write this, you’re not doing it right.” In the novel also, one of Lucy's neighbors offers her early in her career the advice that she must be "ruthless." Lucy is unclear on the exact meaning of "ruthless," but if it's meant that a writer should be ruthless in pursuit of her writing and ruthless to the pettiness of our human natures then Lucy has succeeded. It seems to me that Strout and Lucy are saying is that the great writers must make a decision to put the writing above almost all else thus if that means getting out of an unhappy marriage or avoiding places that haunt us or writing negatively of a class close to us in our everyday life, then we may have to do that even if it harms our children, siblings and possibly our friendships.

Maybe the novel was most subtly brilliant in Lucy addressing her heartbreak in dealing with her daughters after ending her marriage: consequences she did not consider at the time of her divorce when both her daughters were already in university as it relates to the pain she suffered due to the faults of her mother. For example, Lucy writes that when she’s alone she will sometimes say softly, “Mommy,” and she doesn’t know if it’s her calling out for her mom or her youngest daughter Becka's cry for Lucy on the day the planes crashed into the Twin Towers after Lucy had divorced her husband and, the daughters believe, abandoned them. This indeed is the human heart in conflict with itself that, as Faulkner noted, makes for great literature.

*“There is this constant judgment in this world. How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another.”

Preliminary Review (8/28/16)
I won't say wow. I'll say WOW.

I read this novel for a project on which I'm working.

I can see that some will look up at the end and want to throw the book out the window, thinking "well, nothing really happened!" Which is why I think that readers who prefer their books traditional probably won't like this one. I wouldn't have 10 years ago. I might have hated it.

As I try to put down my thoughts though now, after working hard to read as many classics and literary fiction novels as possible over the past 8 years, I cannot imagine how such a light book contains so much profundity on so many, many levels. I'd guess that each reader who liked this novel was affected in some different personal way.

I happen to think that maybe this is the most poignant, both subtle and soulful, novel on prejudices based on one's social origins that I've read.

That is, hateful prejudice creeps below many more areas than hatred looked at in other novels of one's country of origin, birth to a certain religion, of a different color or culture, of a specific sexual orientation or gender. Specifically, I refer to the hatred and denigration of those of us who were born to parents in a lower socio-economic status, or who grew up in a certain region or place and our accent coming therefrom, in none of which we played a role in the "perceived affliction" (both Elvis and the side character in this novel called "Mississippi Mary," were both from Tupelo, Mississippi and, thus, of course, "trash"), or what we might have suffered at the hands of abusive parents.

And yet, all of the above facts, unchangeable and given us at birth, have been used senselessly, ignorantly and hatefully by nearly all of us, including highly educated people who EFFING know better and have no valid reason to hate (o high and mighty vanguards, glare into your looking glass, WHY must you hate like your hated haters?).
It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it's the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.

Let me be clear: I don't equate the prejudice suffered based on national origin, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion to those suffered by people, like me, of a certain social origin. There is no comparison.

What I do point out, as does the book, I think, is that hatred out of a need to put down is hatred, no matter its aim, and just as "damn-dog" ignorant and wrong. There are grades of wrong obviously. I've discussed in other reviews, and I won't beat the drum loudly here, the prejudice and even disgust and contempt I've suffered in certain places in this country as soon as I begin to speak because I have a Southern drawl, which, while definitely there, is not nearly as pronounced as say those from the many parts of the Appalachian Mountains for whom the mixture of Scottish and/or Yorkshire brogue with the drawl is usually an exceedingly thick accent and nearly impossible for actors to lose.

I would hope a novel like this would shame the people who picture themselves as heroes/heroines about the irony of riding a big horse of morality while in private deriding an entire class of people or a region, and thereby divulging his/her own pathetic ignorance. I doubt many would disagree that consistency is a key to the high ground (or, at least away from "the lowest part of who we are") in matters like fighting hatred and bigotry or championing love and tolerance.

I am definitely writing by tomorrow evening for my project a full review on this book. I'll probably tone down my ire by then.
July 1, 2022
My Name is Lucy Barton is a short, simple, and quiet story that took me away from the noise and to that quiet place that I love. Just me, my tea and the beautiful powerful words of this magnificent story. The simple and quiet books are starting to become a favourite of mine.

I loved Lucy and her ability to find kindness, her understanding of people, her compassion and how she can see light through all the hurt and darkness of her childhood. I liked how the relationship with her Mother and some things in this story were left unsaid leaving me to ponder and savour this story.

I found it took me longer to gather my thoughts and write my review than it did to actually read the book and after pondering this story and thinking of the things said and left unsaid. I am going to leave the rest of my thoughts unsaid and highly recommend reading My Name is Lucy Barton.

All of Norma’s & my reviews can be found on our Sister Blog:
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,107 reviews532 followers
October 27, 2022
This was my first introduction to Elizabeth Strout's books, and I was hooked!

Everything about Lucy's life was fascinating: I could not put this book down. Her father's often violent and strange behaviour (triggered by PTSD), their extreme poverty, her mother's stoic endurance - and silence: I loved every minute of this book.

I was struck by Lucy's determination to get herself out of that town. In Strout's later novels dealing with other characters from Lucy's town, Lucy often reappears briefly. She also suffers from anxiety: we are, after all the sum of our life experiences.
Highly recommended!

(Harvard University)
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews206 followers
May 4, 2017

Second 2017 Update
Upgrading my rating from 4 to 5 stars, no idea why I didn't before. Oh, I know, maybe because sometimes I am a dork!

2017 Update
So a funny thing happened to me this weekend. Have you ever had a book "triggered" you to read another book, even if they are not exactly related?
After I finished reading the wonderful Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, I was compelled to re-read My Name Is Lucy Barton, which I originally read almost exactly a year ago.

There are some small similarities, both stories are set in New York and centered in female protagonists. But as far as I can tell, there not so much more overlap between the two novels.

In any case, I was glad to revisit this short novel. Strout's writing is deceptively understated, but is amazing how well she can craft this character in such a slim volume and what emotional punch it has on the reader.

This time I listened to the audio book narrated by Kimberly Farr, which really becomes Lucy Barton on this fantastic performance. At a little bit more than 4 hours you can listen to it while doing chores. Highly recommended!

My Name Is Lucy Barton

Absolutely loved this emotional, heart-wrenching and introspective short novel.
The mother-daughter relationships are especially poignant.
May 14, 2022
My Name Is Lucy Barton begins with our narrator, Lucy Barton sharing details about how in New York City in the 1980s, an infection after routine surgery for removing her appendix leads to her being hospitalized for nine weeks. Her estranged mother, whom she hasn’t seen for years, travels to New York City from Amgash, Illinois and stays with her for five days, never leaving her bedside. Her mother’s presence triggers Lucy’s memories of her past, inspires her to reflect on her present and motivates her to contemplate her future.

“This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true.”

Lucy’s childhood was one marked by abject poverty and abuse. Dysfunctional family dynamics, no friends and being looked down upon by her peers on account of her family’s poor living conditions (her family in the garage of a relative till the age of eleven), push her to concentrate on her books and academics, an endeavor results in her winning a scholarship to college. She is able to make a good life for herself away from the bleak memories of her past. Given her humble beginnings and unhappy childhood, Lucy is sensitive to how other people treat her. She acknowledges and remains grateful for even the smallest gestures of kindness she has experienced from teachers, neighbors and others in the course of her life. Lucy's relationship with her mother is complicated. They have been estranged for years and her mother is now at her bedside after Lucy's husband calls her. Her mother's bedside conversations revolve around news and gossip about cousins, neighbors and other people in their hometown. Though Lucy does bring up more personal topics including her accomplishments as a writer having recently published two stories, her mother does not engage in any deep discussion of Lucy’s childhood or openly appreciate her accomplishments as an adult. The visit is short and her mother abruptly decides to leave after five days. It is not as if mother and daughter reconcile or suddenly become close friends, but there is no denying the fact that Lucy loves her mother deeply and her mother does care for Lucy. Lucy craves affection from her mother, and though her mother remains reserved in her demeanor in this regard, this visit impacts Lucy’s life in that her mother’s presence, the sound of her voice and even the moments spent in silence provide Lucy with comfort and enable her to confront her own emotions, also reflecting on her own role as a mother of two daughters and take stock of her marriage which isn’t exactly perfect. Families are complicated and mother-daughter relationships can be more so and the author does a magnificent job is exploring the same through Lucy and her mother. Love might not always be expressed or may be expressed in a manner different from what we may be able to comprehend, which is painful – but that does not mean it is not there.

“ Because we all love imperfectly.”

Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton is a short but impactful novel. The author’s prose is simple yet beautiful and elegant. Though Lucy’s memories are shared through a series of non-linear, often disjoint flashbacks, the author manages to paint a beautiful picture of Lucy's life. In Lucy Barton, the author creates an emotional but resilient character who feels real and relatable. This is a beautifully written story, concise, with a fluid narrative and superb characterization. I’d been planning to read this book ever since its release in 2016 but have been procrastinating. I’ve always believed in the cathartic effect that reading the right book at the right time could have on you. I found this to be a moving and thought-provoking read that struck a personal chord with me and I am glad I finally picked it up. I look forward to reading Elizabeth Strout’s other books featuring Lucy Barton.

“But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”
Profile Image for Linda.
1,286 reviews1,329 followers
March 19, 2016
How is it that we can truly know the inner workings of another human being? It's all in the conversations, the dialog, the exchange of thoughts and ideas.....and even in those moments when words, themselves, are not even necessary. We cross swords in games of subterfuge while we clasp tightly to our deepest secrets which we label "ours" and certainly not "theirs".

Lucy Barton is hospitalized with a prolonged illness. Her mother turns up at the foot of her bed quite unexpectantly one evening. Lucy has not seen her mother in years. Much like the poem from Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter, they speak of "shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings." Their conversations touch from the mundane to the prolific as mother and daughter dance around topics sometimes best left unsaid. And yet, so much is revealed, especially by Lucy.

Elizabeth Strout can write hidden feelings into words like no other. Lucy says: "It's funny how one thing can make you realize something like that. One can be ready to give up children one always wanted, one can be ready to withstand remarks about one's past, or one's clothes, but then --a tiny remark and the soul deflates and says: Oh."

And I think that line says it all. How we invite, we coerce, we sometimes hover in expectation of the deadly words and actions of others. We keep them in jars by our bedside. It's simply time to release them all.....and the real or imagined power that they possess....release them all.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews690 followers
July 6, 2019
The ways in which we show our love can be vastly different.  This is illustrated with perfection in this tale.  It's a tender, poignant, and introspective look at relationships and imperfect love.  How quick we are to judge others based on too little, the folly of dreading something which invariably ends up in having to go through it twice.  I loved the way the author put these words together -'...this friend of my soul...'
Profile Image for Dolors.
540 reviews2,278 followers
April 25, 2018
Reading “Olive Kitteridge”, which I loved, might have spoiled me for the rest of Strout's work.
The story of Lucy Barton is not much different from the fragmented but carefully delineated sketches of the townspeople in Crosby, but for the main focus of the story, which in this case centers around Lucy and her strained relationship with her family, particularly with her mother.
A woman with humble origins, whose childhood was marked by poverty, loneliness and possibly abuse, manages to escape from the course of her early life and build a decent life as an aspiring writer, wife and mother of two daughters.

Years after her departure, when she is lying in a hospital bed recovering from non-life threatening surgery, her mother reappears suddenly in her life, bringing back unrequited memories of traumatic events, but also buried feelings for her. Lucy loves her mother, and deep down, she misses the rural spot where she grew up that marked her beyond the painful experiences she underwent as a child, which she has been suppressing for a long time. Her roots explain who she is and she won’t be able to erase the track they left on her once she embarks on her journey as a writer. She needs to tell her story, which could have been captivating, but this particular reader remained an outsider to it.

As much as I admire Strout’s skill to paint accurate character portrayals in a few brushstrokes, I did feel she mainly overshadowed a general landscape here without delving deep into the dark forests of the characters’ minds. A story of a dysfunctional family is glimpsed through the cracks of endless gossip about peripheral characters that don’t add meaning to the development of the main storyline. I wanted to know more about Lucy’s past, I expected a credible reunion between mother and daughter after years of non-existent communication, not the gullible, superficial conversations they exchange during her mother’s brief return.
And yet, there was much potential in the silences between them that suggested issues they didn’t dare to say out loud, issues I would have liked to take the main spot in the narrative instead of being lost amidst shallow chatter.

One aspect I liked about the book was Lucy’s evolution from start to end. The book opens in her late twenties, and after surfing the tide of time back to her childhood days, it ends in her mid-forties, presenting a more mature, resolute version of herself. A pity I didn’t hear that powerful voice until the last pages, when Lucy was already lost in the overpopulated woods of dispensable and rather forgettable prose.

Note: A good day to review a book in Catalonia, because today we celebrate St George's Day, the day of the book and the rose.
September 10, 2022
This is spare prose at its finest: 'urgent', 'compressed', elegiac. The first installment of the widely acclaimed Amgash series, My Name is Lucy Barton recounts in fragmented fashion the retrospectively remembered moments from the time when Lucy spent nine weeks in hospital, her austere mother and their meaningful chats becoming a fixture in a narration maimed by the terrors of childhood -- traumas that live on, unnoticed, making experience opaque and circumscribed by that which remains shameful, forevermore. Turn your face away, let the words shed shadows over the seen-unsaid...

If the question is whether Strout tells or shows the readers, then it is possibly the case that she does not quite do either of those: what she does is take her readers by the hand and drags them into quicksand, as a matter of course. She might even be doing more than that, underhandedly, because there is no denying her the readerly company -- her prose, minimalistic yet full with wide-eyed emotion and tender, bare mannerisms, is remarkably transfixing. No trite sentimentality, no long-winded statements. No statements at all. But dawning realisations and singular moments of recognition, transforming into the state of being deflated, invariably; the perpetual avoidance of the tipping point, the causes of which simmer in the recalcitrant turn of words. In other words, character interiorities fleetingly escaping the confines of their non-being, to which they must return; the 'Oh's meeting the hasty extinction to which their existence is immanently destined.

From this very first book, the process of the writing itself occupies centre stage: indeed, the book Lucy herself is said to be writing. A pathetic allure is attributed to this process, with plain meta-references to a memoiristic mode of writing replicated in the novel, which comes to acquire the drift of a lesson in simple and open storytelling. Read, breathe, and learn, as Strout siphons stories from her characters with care, skill (and perhaps 'ruthlessness'?*)

* Remembering the comment dropped by Lucy's artist-neighbour about the necessary ruthlessness of writing, which she does indeed remember in full form.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,142 reviews2,758 followers
June 12, 2017
I listened to this and it augmented the feeling that I was listening in on someone else’s conversation or being part of a one sided conversation. Like a conversation, the book meandered from thought to thought, bringing up different people and past events. This is the trademark of Elizabeth Strout's work, these somewhat interconnected stories.

I had read All Things Are Possible before this book, so a lot of the names felt like familiar old friends whose history I already knew.

Despite her strange, dysfunctional family, Lucy loves her parents. Even as an adult, she calls them mommy and daddy, which I found very odd.

If you liked any of her other work, you will like this. If you like character driven narratives, you'll like this.

The part that struck me the most was Sara Payne’s comment that Lucy’s writing was about people that love imperfectly. It perfectly describes this book.

Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews900 followers
April 5, 2017
A book like this that’s short on words, but rich in meaning begs for a metaphor to describe it. As one I know I can flog, think of Strout’s profile here as an artful little mosaic. She doesn’t use many tiles, but the ones she does display are carefully colored and placed. With enough distance, a picture does emerge. While it may be true that not every reader likes having the space between tiles, for me, squinting and mulling were part of the pleasure. Had the book fully revealed the miseries of Lucy’s early life and her complicated relationships as an adult, I might have found it too familiar or, heaven forfend, sentimental. What follows is a sample of what we do get from the tiles, followed by what we might ponder from the spaces.

Tile Topic: Remember, this is a picture. It’s not an animation. Very little qualifies as a plot beyond the fact that Lucy has mysterious complications from an appendectomy and ends up in a hospital bed for nine weeks. She’s a young mother at the time. Lucy’s own mother flies out from rural Illinois to visit Lucy in New York after years of not seeing her. The five-day visit is mostly filled with gossip about people from town.

Space Speculation: This is a “show, don’t tell” kind of book. Come to think of it, a corollary we might call “allude, don’t conclude” also applies. We sense that Lucy has something to forgive, but we’re not exactly sure what it may be. She’s careful to avoid making her mom feel bad, though, and in return, Lucy does seem comforted by the visit. Her mom does not express love in conventional ways, but might there be proxies (flawed though they may be) that Lucy seeks?

TT: The book proceeds with vignettes years before and years after her illness. The most affecting ones showed very clearly that poverty sucks. Growing up, Lucy and her family lived in the garage of her uncle’s house. They wore ratty clothes, ate bread with molasses for most meals, had no indoor plumbing beyond a sink with tepid water, and spent too much time feeling cold.

SS: Does that sense of being looked down upon ever dissipate? When, as a child, you see the looks on the faces of classmates on the bus hoping you’ll find a seat elsewhere ever fade away? Do the few acts of kindness you enjoy (e.g., a free Thanksgiving dinner offered with a smile, a teacher chastising certain fellow students’ superior attitudes) tell readers how impactful even small gestures can be to those in need?

TT: Among family members, Lucy was the lucky one. She spent hours in the library (partly just to stay warm) where she discovered books as a way to fight loneliness. As a side benefit, she got top marks in school and escaped with a college scholarship. Her brother and sister did not fare as well. He was too repressed to ever be whole and she was too resentful. Lucy’s dad had a temper, a bad war experience, and jobs that would never last. Her mom had issues of her own and at times would lash out indiscriminately.

SS: Left unsaid was anything about a big event that capitalized the D in their family’s dysfunction. The shadow of a “thing” seemed to lurk, but what beyond general hardship might have cast it? Another dynamic we can only guess at is why Lucy and her siblings apparently preferred feeling ostracized in isolation rather than together as a team.

TT: Lucy ultimately became a writer. Her motivation was a noble one: to help readers like herself feel less alone. A story that rings true emotionally creates an empathetic reader/writer bond. Truth can sound like "a child crying with the deepest of desperation," (though I doubt Lucy would allow it to appear overwrought). A fellow writer who served a short while as a mentor told Lucy we all have one story to tell. Lucy was told by another friend that she needed to write ruthlessly.

SS: One question that occurred to me was whether “truth” is possible when there are lies of omission? It seems a relevant thing to ask in light of Lucy’s vague imputations. But then we may decide that reactions can feel real even when the causes are unknown. We may also wonder whether the “one story to tell” line suggests something the mentor may have had in common with Lucy – some sort of life-shaping trauma or sorrow. (One small tile showed how both Lucy and her instructor jumped out of their seats when a cat suddenly entered the room.) A clear-sighted vision of whatever this thing may be could inform an entire world view as well as the story one tells to represent it. And when that truth is an ugly one, a writer has to be ruthless to be honest. Coupled with that honesty, though – and this might just be the crux of it all for our protagonist, Lucy – is acceptance.

TT: Thinking of this review as a kind of mosaic itself, it seems I’m working with even fewer tiles than Strout was. 1) I look at her themes and profiles and applaud the pixelation. 2) I like the greater truths that spring from fiction even when their roots are unknown. And 3), I argue that her book inspires in subtle, less clamorous ways.

SS: OK, so maybe meta-mosaics don’t really work. Plus, I’ll admit that flogging a metaphor is one thing; but it’s quite another to maim it.
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews185 followers
March 17, 2019
I Am Lucy Barton is a book of memories.
As Lucy looks back at her life she focuses on a time when she spent five weeks in hospital after a routine operation hit problems. A time in which she lay in bed and did a lot of thinking about her childhood, her family and her marriage.
Whilst in hospital she was visited by her long estranged mother, who stayed with her for several days. This made her happy ........ as it gave her a glimpse of how their relationship could have been.
Lucy’s internal monologue which runs off in random directions and her mother’s disconnected thoughts, begin to knit together to form a picture of the past. An uncomfortable picture of abject poverty, a sad dysfunctional family, a variety of failed relationships and hints of something dark, shadowy and very wrong that occurred when Lucy was young.
The writing has a depth that allows you to push through the haphazard musings and hazy anecdotes to see the loneliness, disappointment and sadness that underpins them.
Lucy Barton feels very real. She has a singular, faltering and honest voice and I don’t disagree with the praise lavished on this Booker nominated novel.
I’m an Elizabeth Strout fan and this melancholy read was touching, realistic and delicately written ........ but for me, there was a little too much detective work needed to join the dots and the book was simply too short for me to have strong feelings for Lucy.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,156 followers
January 16, 2016
MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON is a short 200 page novella jam-packed with emotional substance. It's a story of a daughter who so loves her mother despite her unpleasant childhood, a daughter who so wants the approval and love of her mother in return.

As she recovers from surgery complications, a shocked Lucy receives a five day visit from her estranged mother who can only express her feelings by telling stories of old acquaintances and their imperfect lives; and while listening, Lucy Barton revisits her own memories of terror, isolation and the "thing" she does not want to remember in order to make peace with herself and her family.

Interesting and touching read narrated in the form of multiple short stories as with Olive Kitteridge.

Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,724 followers
May 21, 2017
A short, subtle story about life through the eyes of a woman, Lucy Barton.

Disclaimer: This book isn't going to satisfy you if you need a conventional plot, with a "story" and a "lesson" and clear explanations.

What it does have, through a dreamy vagueness found in certain types of poetry, is the hard nut of truth about people, poverty, prejudice, kindness, love, and scars of childhood.

Lucy Barton lived in terrible poverty, lived through unuttered abuse as a child. She has never heard her mother say she loves her, has never felt her mother's kiss. Her father is traumatised by his own actions in the war. She manages to get out of this world, through her intelligence and "ruthlessness", and becomes a writer in New York. She ends up very ill in the hospital and her estranged mother comes to visit her bedside. This visit tells so much, without spelling it out, about the relationship and complexities between the two women, and about Lucy's life.

Lucy has suffered in her life because of poverty, because of a dearth of affection, because of prejudice. She points out, correctly, that humans are always assessing themselves and others in a hierarchy:

"It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it's the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down."

As a result of this suffering, she receives any kindness with incredible appreciation - any act of kindness marks her indelibly. I found her sensitivity to kindness one of the most beautiful things in this book. It adds a lovely optimism to the tone of the book which could have easily gone in the other direction. This is mainly accomplished by the non-judgmental voice in which this is written. I didn't feel manipulated or guided by her to feel this way or that.

The characters and storylines are not always fleshed out or resolved. Isn't that the way it is, in life? No one's life has a perfect arc, a definitive climax, and a clear resolution. There are silences and annoying precipices filled with nothing. So each reader will take away something different from this book, filling the silence with their own meanings.

This book is also about writing. She says a lot about writing that resonated with me. She maintains each person has one story to tell, and may keep telling that one story in different ways. She says that "the job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do." And I believe that is exactly what Elizabeth Strout did.
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