My Name is Lucy Barton
I loved this book. It worked better for me than Olive Kitteridge, for which the author won a Pulitzer Prize. I suspect I missed some of its deepest elements, but I did enjoy the reading.
It’s a short book. The prose is spare, every word carefully chosen. To be able to illuminate such deep thoughts with so few words is truly remarkable.
Likewise, to be able to create such rich characters. These are likeable people, very real, flaws and all. I cared deeply for them, and wanted to keep reading for that reason alone.
The major theme, as I saw it, was how our lives are irrevocably shaped by our childhood, how our need for love comes from the love we did or did not have growing up, how our self-esteem (or lack thereof) is a direct result of these early experiences.
For me, therefore, this was a book about love of both family and self. It is also about poverty and abuse, as defining experiences that make us who we are. This is certainly true of Lucy Barton, the book’s main voice, as well as of her mother, father, siblings, and childhood acqaintances. We’re talking about PTSD, whether resulting from war, family trauma, poverty, or abuse.
Communication is key here – the ways in which we do or do not communicate. It’s certainly not a new subject. I’ve written of it many times myself. But I’m no Elizabeth Strout. Her handling is masterful, both in conception and execution.
Lucy Barton is a lonely, haunted woman who badly needs love. She is also bright, a writer, a thinker. For those reasons, she does move beyond her parents’ limitations. She makes her marriage work for a time, certainly better than her parents did theirs, and she clearly adores her children. That said, history does repeat itself in small but niggling ways. Emotional baggage is hard to ignore.
Perhaps, therefore, the book is a journey for Lucy, showing the movement toward understand of who she is and what she can do. Perhaps, in that sense, the title is the conclusion Lucy reaches? At book’s end, I hear her saying, this is my name, it’s who I am.
I hope my book group discusses this book. I desperately need to talk with someone else who has read it.