Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel, “My Name is Lucy Barton” is the story of a mother and daughter, told by the daughter. It is a short, absorbing book. I inhaled it.
Lucy Barton grows up in almost Dickensian poverty, living with her family in a freezing garage, insulated with pretty pink fiberglass. She is told not to touch the stuff that gives this minimal warmth, because if she touches it, the fiberglass will cut her. The coldness of her home reflects the coldness of a family where the parents are abusive by most standards. For example, Lucy’s parents lock her in their truck for an entire day. But Lucy’s mother sometimes gives her a hot water bottle to heat the bed at night.
Lucy stays late at school each day, doing homework and reading, just to be warm. She learns that “work gets done if you simply do it.” Books help her not to feel alone, and she decides to become a writer to help others not feel so alone. Doing homework and reading, she becomes an excellent student, wins a college scholarship, and escapes the poverty of her family. But she never stops missing them.
When the adult Lucy is hospitalized for nine weeks her mother comes to the hospital and never leaves Lucy’s side. Laughing and joking about the nurses, whom they have nicknamed Toothache, Cookie, and Serious Child, Lucy and her mother come to a kind of closeness.
Partly through the advice of another mother figure, a published author, Lucy achieves success as a writer, but, as her mother predicts, there are tough times in her future.
As a writer myself, and as a daughter and mother of daughters, I loved this book. Thank you, Elizabeth Strout.