My Name is Lucy Barton (Strout)

My Name Is Lucy Barton 
Elizabeth Strout, 2016
Random House
208 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812979527

A simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all—the one between mother and daughter.
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her.

Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters.

Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 6, 1956
Where—Portland, Maine, USA
Education—B.A., Bates College; J.D. and Certificate of Gerontology, Syracuse University
Awards—Pulitzer Prize
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York, and in Maine.

Elizabeth Strout is an American writer of fiction. She was born in Portland, Maine, and raised in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire. Her father was a science professor, and her mother taught high school.

After graduating from Bates College, Strout spent a year in Oxford, England, followed by studies at law school for another year. In 1982 she graduated with honors, and received both a law degree from the Syracuse University College of Law and a Certificate of Gerontology from the Syracuse School of Social Work. That year her first story was published in New Letters magazine.

Strout moved to New York City, and continued to write stories that were published in literary magazines, as well as in Redbook and Seventeen. It took her six or seven years to write Amy and Isabelle, which when published was shortlisted for the 2000 Orange Prize and nominated for the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. The novel was made into a television movie starring Elisabeth Shue and produced by Oprah Winfrey's studio, Harpo Films.

During the fall semsester of 2007, Strout was a NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) professor at Colgate University, where she taught creative writing at both the introductory and advanced level. She was also on the faculty of the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In 2009 Strout was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge (2008), a collection of connected short stories about a woman and her immediate family and friends on the coast of Maine. In 2010, Italian booksellers voted Olive Kitteridge and Strout as the winner of the Premio Bancarella award in the medieval Piazza della Repubblica in Pontremoli, Italy. Her new book, The Burgess Boys, was published in 2013.

Strout is married to former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, who currently serves as the Director of the National State Attorney General Program at Columbia Law School. She divides her time between New York and Maine. (From Wikipedia.)

From a 2006 Barnes & Noble interview:

• My first job was when I was about 12, cleaning houses in the afternoons for different elderly women in town. I hated it. I would be so bored scrubbing at some kitchen tile, that my mind would finally float all over the place, to the beach, to a friend's house...all this happened in my mind as I scrubbed those tiles, so it was certainly good for my imagination. But I did hate it."

• Without a doubt my mother was an inspiration for my writing. This is true in many ways, but mostly because she is a wonderful storyteller, without even knowing it. I would listen, as a child, when some friend of hers came to visit, and they would gossip about the different people they knew. My mother had the most fascinating stories about people's families, murderers, mental illnesses, babies abandoned, and she delivered it all in a matter-of-fact way that was terribly compelling. It made me believe that there was nothing more interesting than the lives of people, their real hidden lives, and this of course can lead one down the path of becoming a fiction writer.

• Later, in college, one of my favorite things was to go into town and sit at the counter at Woolworth's (so tragic to have them gone!) and listen to people talking; the waitresses and the customers — I loved it. I still love to eavesdrop, but mostly I like the idea of being around people who are right in the middle of their lives, revealing certain details to each other — leaving the rest for me to make up.

• I love theater. I love sitting in an audience and having the actors right there, playing out what it means to be a human being. There is something about the actual relationship that is going on between the audience and the actors that I just love. I love seeing the sets and costumes, the decisions that have been made about the's a place for the eye and the ear to be fully involved. I have always loved theater."

• I also like cell phones. What I mean by that is I hear many people complain about cell phones; they can't go anywhere without hearing someone on a cell phone, etc. But I love that chance to hear half a conversation, even if the person is just saying, ‘Hi honey, I'll be home in ten minutes, do you want me to bring some milk?' And I'm also grateful to have a cell phone, just to know it's there if I need it when I'm out and about. So I'm a cell phone fan.

• I don't especially like to travel, not the way many people do. I know many people that love to go to far-off and different places, and I've never been like that. I seem to get homesick as quickly as a child. I may like being in some new place for a few days, but then I want to go home and return to my routine and my familiar corner stores. I am a real creature of habit, without a doubt.

When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, she answered:

Perhaps the book that had the greatest influence on my career as a writer was The Journals of John Cheever. Of course many, many books had influenced me before I read that, but there was something about the honesty found in Cheever's journals that gave me courage as a writer. And his ability to turn a phrase, to describe in a breath the beauty of a rainstorm or the fog rising off the river... all this arrived in my life as a writer at a time when I seemed ready to absorb his examples of what a sentence can do when written with the integrity of emotion and felicity of language.

Book Reviews
[R]ead slowly, to savor the depths beneath what at first seems a simple story of a mother-daughter reconciliation.... Strout develops the story in short chapters in which the reader intuits the emotional complexity of Lucy’s life.... This masterly novel’s message, made clear in the moving denouement, is that sometimes in order to express love, one has to forgive.
Publishers Weekly

The book does feel a bit abbreviated, but that's only because the characters and ideas are so compelling we want to hear more from the author who has limned them so sensitively. Fiction with the condensed power of poetry: Strout deepens her mastery with each new work, and her psychological acuity has never required improvement.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for My Name Is Lucy Barton:

1. What happened to Lucy that estranged her from her parents? When did you first begin to suspect, then to fully understand Lucy's demons?

2. Describe each of the two women, Lucy and her mother. What is their relationship with one another, and how does the relationship change during the course of the novel?

3. Why is Lucy's mother unable to be emotionally open to her daughter? How different is Lucy's relationship with her own daughters?

4. What is the state of Lucy's marriage? How do the couple's divergent upbringings, one impoverished and the other comfortable, affect their relationship? Talk about the role that class plays in this book.

5. How did you feel, later in the book, when Lucy's dying mother tells her, "I need you to leave" and the father who brutalized her says, "What a good girl you've always been"?

6. What does Strout's book suggest about the pull of family and the power of redemption? What makes forgiveness possible? Do all things deserve forgiveness?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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