My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Readers will know Elizabeth Strout as the author of Olive Kitteridge, a book that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. A new book by this author is cause for celebration, and My Name is Lucy Barton released this month proves to be another outstanding novel from a superior writer.
My Name is Lucy Barton is a book about love, between parents and children, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters – and the essential need for love for oneself.
Love is such a difficult thing to understand. Do neglectful parents love their children? I imagine some would be fiercely defensive if their love were questioned. How many children have never been told, “I love you” by a parent, and yet there is the assumption that even unspoken it is felt.
Not just love, but caring. I found myself questioning how children who have experienced a childhood of neglect manage to become adults who are able to love their own children.
These are a few of the questions I asked myself as I read this unsettling book. Many of us grew up in the “stiff upper lip” sort of family, where love was not often expressed with hugs and kisses, but we were kept warm, well fed, clean and cared for in every way. A scene very far removed from the childhood of Lucy Barton, who grew up in abject poverty, living in a garage for some time, before moving into a run down house with her parents and siblings. They lived with filth and hunger and neglect but they stayed together.
Lucy was the lucky one who found solace and escape in books. She earned a full scholarship to a University and made a life for herself as a successful writer in New York City. She married and had children. Lucy Barton made sure her children knew how much she loved them in every way.
But, really, Lucy has not left it all behind. The things she was deprived of as a child had a profound effect, physically, emotionally and socially.
When her children were still young Lucy was ill, spending several weeks in the hospital. Her mother came to visit – the only time she has done so. Lucy loves her mother and is somewhat overwhelmed that her mother has come to her. Surely this is love. Would her mother have come if not for love, even if she cannot say the words?
Though Elizabeth Strout is quoted as saying, “writers use all life experiences that come their way and mix them up and jumble them up”, this novel does not appear to be autobiographical. There is reference to a writer being advised to write their one story. This novel is Lucy Barton’s story.