Quietly and slowly, Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton draws you in. This short book, nominated for the Man Booker Prize this year, offers wisdom and jarring attention to survival in a sometimes cruel world.
Although the story has little substance – reflections of a woman who grew up in poverty and her five days with her mother in a hospital room – Strout nurses the short scenes as Lucy listens to her mother. Her mother’s stories remind Lucy of her childhood, as she relives moments of pain and kindness from others. Lucy became a writer so that – “…people will not feel so alone!” but her personal loneliness never really goes away.
This is a short book; I accidentally ordered the large print version from the library with its 172 pages. I kept going back to reread some of its small chapters – some only a paragraph, and a few passages I marked to remember:
“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.”
The passage reminded me of a famous businessman running for President, who finds opportunities to belittle others. But, it also reminded me of gossiping – basically what Lucy and her mother were doing in the hospital room – and how guiltily pleasurable it can be. Two other passages I marked:
“…the day she told us to go to the page without judgment, reminded us that we never knew, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully.”
“A person gets tired. The mind or the soul or whatever we have for what-ever is not just the body gets tired, and this, I decided is – usually, mostly nature helping us. I was getting tired…”
Strout offers readers much to think about and possibly be grateful for in their own lives.
Clare Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs, wrote an insightful review of the book. You can read her review here.