Lucy Barton goes on a road trip to uncover a family secret
In 2016 Elizabeth Strout wrote a book called My Name Is Lucy Barton. In 2017, she wrote more about this character in Anything Is Possible. Her latest book, Oh William! continues the story. (If you scroll down, you will find the reviews I posted on GoodReads for the first two books.)
William was Lucy’s first husband. They have two adult daughters together and have been divorced for years, but are still close. As the book opens, Lucy’s second husband has recently died. She is feeling grief over that and over two things that have happened to seventy-one-year-old William – the demise of his third marriage and a family secret he has just learned.
William asks Lucy to join him on a road trip as he goes off to explore the family secret. She accepts and then writes about the journey. In this manner, we learn all about William, his mother, Catherine Cole, and more about Lucy herself.
That’s really all there is to this book, with the caveat that Elizabeth Strout is such a fine writer, you will inhale William’s story and anxiously await the day she writes the next Lucy Barton book.
Bottom line: I recommend any book written by Elizabeth Strout.
Here are the two reviews from Goodreads:
My Name Is Lucy Barton – a review:
Lucy Barton’s childhood was harsh. There was great poverty. There was physical and emotional abuse from her parents. There was shunning and alienation from other children and adults. Yes she was hungry, but she was also cold, many ways cold. One of her coping strategies as a child (to handle physical coldness) was to stay at school and read for as long as she possibly could. And so she got good grades and then a full scholarship to college, and in this manner she left home and got a chance for a life.
The book opens with Lucy in the hospital with complications from surgery. At this point she is a wife and mother and she hasn’t seen her birth family in years. Shockingly, her mother comes to be with her in the hospital and they share several days together. It is clear that Lucy feels love for her mother AND she also feels loved by her mother in spite of all the misery she has endured in her childhood.
If the described childhood is Lucy’s definition of “love” I feel sorry for her husband and kids, but most of all for Lucy. One has to wonder if a person can ever escape such a childhood?
Anything is Possible – a review:
This is a book of short stories in which all characters have a connection – sometimes a very loose connection – to Lucy Barton. For those unfamiliar with Elizabeth Strout’s work, Lucy was the title character from the last book by the author.
Beyond borrowing an old character for this new work, Strout also borrows the short story format from her stunning 2008 book, Olive Kitteridge. Put it all together and this newest book is a winner. We learn about Lucy from all the people who knew her peripherally and from her siblings and from her own appearance in this book.
Though I will admit that a couple of the stories got too far afield from Lucy for my taste, I will also say that the opening story is so beautiful that it alone makes the book a wonderful read. (It tells the life story of the man who was the janitor at the school Lucy attended as a child.)
I’m not one to re-read books, but I really want to re-read My Name Is Lucy Barton, now that I know more about her. And then after that I will want to re-read Anything is Possible to appreciate Lucy’s life and struggles and triumphs even more. Way to go, Elizabeth Strout! Wonderful book!