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Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
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Oh William! (edition 2021)

by Elizabeth Strout

Series: Lucy Barton (3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7277225,319 (3.97)56
Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout explores the mysteries of marriage and the secrets we keep, as a former couple reckons with where they've come from--and what they've left behind.  "Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite writers, so the fact that Oh William! may well be my favorite of her books is a mathematical equation for joy. The depth, complexity, and love contained in these pages is a miraculous achievement."--Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.  Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are.  So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret--one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout's "perfect attunement to the human condition." There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together--even after we've grown apart.  At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. "This is the way of life," Lucy says: "the many things we do not know until it is too late."… (more)
Member:bluehydrangea123
Title:Oh William!
Authors:Elizabeth Strout
Info:London : Penguin Books, 2021.
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:****
Tags:None

Work Information

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

  1. 00
    Jack by Marilynne Robinson (aprille)
    aprille: Both Strout and Robinson present flawed characters with love and generosity.
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Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Written from the voice of Lucy Barton, a character in two previous books written by Strout. Lucy, married twice, has recently lost her second husband David. In her grief of David, she travels back to memories of her first husband, William. William was easy to love, but difficult to live with. Yet, Lucy knows William may just be the only person who knows her totally.

I had difficulty with the repetitive phrases and ideas. I can't recommend this latest book when compared to her others. ( )
  Whisper1 | Jun 24, 2022 |
Oh William! is a character study of Lucy Barton, the protagonist from two earlier books, My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, and her first husband William. The book is a free-ranging menage of random thoughts, memories, and the events of Lucy's life after the death of her second husband David.
Ms. Strout writes clearly in Lucy's voice, articulating Lucy's thoughts though I was sometimes annoyed by repetitive phrases. I know people tend to repeat certain expressions, and this is very true of Lucy. Another small niggle was that while I read the first book, I missed the second, and the author often refers back to what she wrote in those books without further explanation. So I didn't always know what she was explaining about her childhood here, but again, just a small annoyance.
This book is all about Lucy and William. The plot revolves very loosely around William's discovery of a half-sister he never knew, but the story deals more with their family and the relationships between various members. Ms. Strout doesn't hold back when her characters are being petty or mean, but she also has them display great kindness and love for each other.
She covers some of the settings of her other books in Maine, Illinois, and New York City. But they're just a backdrop to the rich tapestry of her characters' lives. ( )
  N.W.Moors | Jun 17, 2022 |
The story in Oh William! is told in the distinctive voice of Lucy Barton. The narrative is at times disjointed, repetitive, stuttering, and awkward. It is also honest, raw, and deeply relatable.

The book is an exploration of Lucy's relationship with her first husband, William Gerhardt, a seventy-one-year-old scientist (parasitologist) and professor who still goes to the laboratory every day but is keenly conscious of the fact that his younger colleagues are bypassing him. In the years after Lucy learned of his philandering and left him, William remarried twice and, as the story opens, is living with his much younger third wife, Estelle, with whom he has a daughter, Bridget. William did not want more children, but he loves Bridget deeply, as he does his two older daughters with Lucy, both of whom are married. Lucy is now sixty-four years old and a published author. Her second husband, David, died recently and she is grieving. Early in the book, Lucy admits that William, her husband for twenty years, "has always been a mystery to me -- and to our girls as well." But she also reveals that "William is the only person I ever felt safe with. He is the only home I ever had" even though there were times during the marriage that she "loathed him." William is the son of a German prisoner of war who, during World War II, was transported to one of four camps in remote areas of Maine to work in the potato fields. There, he met and fell in love with William's mother, Catherine, who was, at the time, married to a potato farmer.

As Oh Wiliam! opens, William and Lucy meet occasionally in a diner for coffee. Two years ago, during one such meeting, he told her he had been experiencing night terrors. One involved his late mother, Catherine, who seemed to be with him, hovering. Some time later, Estelle gifted him a subscription to an online ancestry site. It revealed that Catherine had another child two years before William was born, fathered by her first husband, the potato farmer. William had no idea he had an older sister, Lois, and has been unable to locate a death certificate for her. Rather, he discovers that she married in 1969, and had children and grandchildren. At first, he refuses to believe it because he cannot understand why he was never told about Lois as a child. Where was she while he was growing up? And more importantly, did his mother abandon her own child? How could she do such a thing?

A few months later, William asks Lucy to come to his apartment right away. Worried about him, she agrees. When she arrives, she learns that William returned from a conference in San Francisco to find a hand-written note from Estelle announcing that she has moved out. She informs William that he is "kind of unreachable a lot. But you're a good man. You just seem faraway at times. I mean a lot of times." Lucy spends the afternoon with William and they go out to dinner, over which William acknowledges that he does have an older sister. And she must have been about a year old when his mother abandoned her. A week later, William asks Lucy to accompany him to Maine for a few days. He explains he has located Lois' address and wants to just "go look." Lucy, still mourning David and lonely, agrees because she also still cares deeply for William and wants to help him find answers about his family, especially Catherine, with whom Lucy had a complex, but loving relationship.

Lucy shares her innermost thoughts and feelings about her life and relationships. Events and mentions of various other characters stir up her memories, and she details how she and William met, fell in love, and what being married to him was like. She reveals the isolation she has always felt, in part due to her atypical childhood. She explains that she feels invisible in the world "in the deepest way," even though she knows that she truly isn't, in no small measure because she is a mother -- and she adores her daughters. Even as a successful author, she feels the weight of her own childhood bearing down upon her at times.

The road to Maine turns out to be paved with little epiphanies. Their fondness for each other is evident (they still refer to each other by the nicknames they used when married -- she is "Button" and he is "Pillie"), but they also still get on each other's nerves. He wears khaki pants that are far too short and she resents his insensitivity to her needs, while he gripes that she seems to always be hungry but never eats anything. The trip reminds her "what a hideous thing marriage was for me at times those years with William . . . Intimacy became a ghastly thing." She recalls the ways in which William, a man who has always remained emotionally detached and unavailable to the women with whom he has been involved, betrayed her during their marriage and how she responded to his duplicitous behavior, as well as the times that William acted like a spoiled and petulant child.

With Lucy at his side, William confronts the truth about his family -- his father was a member of the Hitler Youth and his mother was not who she wanted the world to think she was. In fact, it was his father's background that caused Lucy's family to reject William and refuse to attend their wedding. She examines why she "felt a little bit like things were not entirely real," beginning on the day she married William at the country club to which his mother belonged, and how the feeling persisted during the entirety of the marriage. They navigate to Catherine's childhood home, a place William has never before seen, and what they find provides new context to Catherine's habits and actions. They also find their way to the address William found for Lois, the former Miss Potato Blossom Queen. Indeed, she still lives in the cozy home, having been widowed five years ago. Will the siblings enjoy a happy meeting?

Oh William! is a meditation on marriage, family, and connectedness. Strout's seemingly effortless storytelling brings Lucy and William vividly to life and invests readers in their well-being. Because Lucy and William have two daughters, their lives are always going to be, to some extent, intertwined. The story is an argument for the proposition that love and affection linger long after intimate relationships end. Their daughters are puzzled by their parents' road trip, and one of them even asks if Lucy and William are going to get back together, but Lucy assures her that will not happen. Still, years after their divorce and marriages to other partners, Lucy's feelings about William remain conflicted and multi-layered. Through Lucy, Strout contemplates whether it is possible to ever really know another person and, if not, whether that really matters, in the long run. Is it perhaps possible to form an unbreakable connection with someone that will withstand myriad little aggravations, large betrayals, and divorce? Do forgiveness and acceptance of the fact that "we are all mythologies, mysterious" bring peace, and permit us to escape that feeling of "unreality" that Lucy experienced for so many years? Stout's unembellished consideration of those questions is engaging, poignant, and emotionally resonant.

Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book. ( )
  JHSColloquium | Jun 16, 2022 |
Lucy Barton was once married to William Gerhardt, who is a scientist. They had two daughters together, Chrissy and Becka. But, despite being divorced for quite some time, Lucy and William are still friends. They meet up from time to time and seek each other out for comfort during times of stress.

William discovers that he might have a half sister in Maine, and just after his third wife leaves him, decides to check out said half sister. He enlists Lucy to join him on his trip to the wilds of Maine to meet the half sister who is, apparently, the daughter of a potato farmer, and who was apparently abandoned by her mother, also William's mother, at the age of one.

This is a lovely book. Lucy is the narrator and you get the feeling she is talking to you, telling her life story, or at least some pertinent events in her life story. It's full of little verbal ticks that give it so much more intimacy, e.g. "what I'm trying to say is ...." And so forth.

I loved this book. Were GoodReads to allow it, I'd give it 4* . Which is to say, it's a most excellent book, albeit probably not one of the ten or twenty best books ever written, which would then make it 5*. But who am I to say?

#OhWilliam! #NetGalley ( )
  lgpiper | Jun 12, 2022 |
Listened to this as an audiobook. A ponderously paced relationship story about people that were hard to care very much about. It did not make the road trip go faster. ( )
  GwenRino | May 1, 2022 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
This book is dedicated to my husband,
                  Jim Tirrney
And to anyone who needs it—-this is for you
First words
I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.
Quotations
What a strange thing life is.
This is the way of life: the many things we do not know until it is too late.
I turned and I said, "How are your night terrors these days, William?"
William opened his hand and said, "They're gone." Then he added, "My life got worse, so they stopped."
Mommy, I cried inside myself, Mommy, I am so frightened!
And the nice mother I have made up over the years answered: Yes, I know.
If you have not been there, you cannot know.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout explores the mysteries of marriage and the secrets we keep, as a former couple reckons with where they've come from--and what they've left behind.  "Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite writers, so the fact that Oh William! may well be my favorite of her books is a mathematical equation for joy. The depth, complexity, and love contained in these pages is a miraculous achievement."--Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.  Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are.  So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret--one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout's "perfect attunement to the human condition." There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together--even after we've grown apart.  At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. "This is the way of life," Lucy says: "the many things we do not know until it is too late."

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