Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York Hospital when she wakes up to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed.  They have not seen each other in years.  As they talk, Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually ended up in the big city, got married and had children.  But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she’s made: wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.

My Thoughts:

All the intricacies of human relationships are laid out by Elizabeth Strout in prose that is as fine as filigree – precise and delicate.  In My Name is Lucy Barton she uses the hospitalization of her heroine, who is visited for a few days by her estranged mother, to explore the emotional terrain of a childhood too horrific to be conjured directly.  Sprout is the mistress of allusion,  hinting at abuse but never describing it, so that the reader is made to work at imagining what happened and in doing so is drawn compellingly into Lucy’s world: “I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts a 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.” Lucy’s memories are suppressed but not quite obliterated, so that the story becomes one of valour and resilience, when it could have been one of despair.