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My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
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My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016)

by Elizabeth Strout

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1,9581904,973 (3.72)293
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Showing 1-5 of 183 (next | show all)
I really liked Elizabeth Strout's other book Olive Kitteridge but this one just didn't grab me. Lucy Barton keeps making references to her dysfunctional family and the trials of her childhood but then she says she loves her mother and father. She never returned home after going away to college until her mother's funeral but it is never clear what caused her to stay away. She obviously kept in touch with the family because she knew some things about their lives. It just didn't hang together for me. ( )
  gypsysmom | Sep 6, 2018 |
There is a spare, elegant and subtle quality to Elizabeth Strout’s book that is evocative of a short story, where not a lot happens and there is much more left unsaid than said.

The central action of the book is the hospital visit paid to Lucy Barton, the title character, by her estranged mother when she becomes ill following an appendectomy.

Lucy Barton’s narrative jumps back and forth in time; if we call the hospital visit the main action and hence “the present”, then Lucy Barton returns to the past as well as leaps ahead to the future repeatedly.

The book’s chapters are not numbered, corroborating with the jumpiness of the narrative to suggest less a linear chronology, more a jumble of memories.

In fact, I believe the books’s main theme, as suggested by the title, is the power of narratives: the stories we tell ourselves, the memories we hold on to, the truths we believe and let define us, the stories we tell others.

We see in My Name is Lucy Barton, which has a strong focus on familial relationships, that we create our own narratives about our parents and our childhoods that are different from the narratives they create about themselves and about us. Just as our children will create their own narratives about their lives and how we figure into it that do not necessarily reflect our truths. In this way, parents and children misunderstand and hurt each other without necessarily meaning to.

At just under 200 pages, My Name is Lucy Barton is short. It’s a fast and easy read, but with the many jumps in chronology, I found myself flipping back and forth, rereading passages and pages to try to assemble a clear picture in my head what exactly Lucy Barton’s narrative is; what is she trying to tell us.

For example, Lucy has mentioned or hinted at a “Thing” at least four times in the book, the Thing being the name she has given to a horrible unspoken thing that torments her father and causes him to lose control. We know something about a “truck” and a “snake”, but not much more than what Lucy has shared with us; it is not clear whether she is a victim of physical abuse, sexual molestation or something else. Either the narrator herself does not know or will not let herself remember, or Strout wants the reader to fill in the blanks.

Ultimately, there is no “real” truth, because one person’s narrative is not the same as another person’s narrative, even when it revolves around the same events.

“So much of life seems speculation,” reflects Lucy Barton.

Yet all these half-truth, bits of memory, speculations, they all get mixed up into our narrative and that ends up defining who we are and how we face the world, and it is that which gives meaning to our lives.

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

Drawing these observations and conclusions was not easy; I tend to prefer books where something happens and I don’t have to think in order to figure out what the book is about. With My Name is Lucy Barton, it is like Lucy’s reflection about life: it is full of speculation. It required flipping back and forth between pages and passages, or time, trying to define and pin down the narrative. But because I made the effort to do that, I am rewarded with finding a meaning that I can live with. ( )
  AmyHilliges | Sep 3, 2018 |
Another great piece of writing by a brilliant talent! It was too short for my liking, but so good! ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
A clueless woman who finds herself estranged from pretty much everyone to whom she should be close bumbles through life.

I was never able to let myself get absorbed in the book as I found myself constantly distracted in examining the writing of a writer writing about her life, in entertaining for much too long an unreliable narrator/Sixth Sense conspiracy theory, in thinking that leaving the hospital room has a parallel to the movie Speed where getting off the bus is a huge narrative mistake, in seeing too many similarities to the much better [b:The Glass Castle|7445|The Glass Castle|Jeannette Walls|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1400930557s/7445.jpg|2944133], and in nurturing my pet peeve that telling a bunch of vignettes does not add up to a novel.

Basically, I was thinking about everything except this book, and I doubt I shall think of it again after hitting save on this review. ( )
  villemezbrown | Jul 28, 2018 |
I really wanted to like this more. I'll give another one of her books a shot. There wasn't much of a plot and the prose was simple. I think that's what was intended. Not my cup of tea. ( )
  CSKteach | Jul 20, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 183 (next | show all)
I was in Lucy Barton’s head from the very first page.

It’s rare when this happens – when the words of a book hypnotize you. The experience doesn’t feel like reading at all. It’s like falling into someone else’s consciousness...Strout’s skill in channelling Lucy’s voice is breathtaking, especially considering it’s the first time the bestselling author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys has written a novel in the first person....This ability to love life, to notice small kindnesses, to remember the light in the sky and across the fields rather than the horrors of her childhood home, is Lucy’s salvation.

It is what we allow ourselves to see that helps us survive.
 
My Name Is Lucy Barton confirms Strout as a powerful storyteller immersed in the nuances of human relationships, weaving family tapestries with compassion, wisdom and insight. If she hadn’t already won the Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge, this new novel would surely be a contender.
 
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Dedication
For my friend Kathy Chamberlain
First words
There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks.
Quotations
Whatever we call it, I think it's the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.
Sarah Payne, the day she told us to go to the page without judgement, reminded us that we never knew, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully.
"You will have only one story," she had said. "You'll write your story many ways. Don't ever worry about story. You have only one."
I feel that people may not understand that my mother could never say the words I love you.  I feel that people may not understand: It was all right.
Telling a lie and wasting food were always things to be punished for.
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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. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy's childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy's life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters.… (more)

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