Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

lucybartonAbout My Name is Lucy Barton

• Hardcover: 193 pages
• Published: January 2016 by Random House
• Source: Library via Overdrive

Goodreads DescriptionLucy 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 lies 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.

My Thoughts

This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter. Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly.

I’m not the first reviewer to pull out that quote, and I won’t be the last. My Name is Lucy Barton is the kind of book I really hate to love. It had me crying and shoveling pasta. Don’t be fooled by the length – this short novel packs a punch.

Lucy Barton is in the hospital. She wakes up one day to see her mother sitting in the chair next to her. The mother she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years, who hates Lucy’s husband, won’t talk about Lucy’s father, and doesn’t seem to want to do anything but gossip.

The novel jumps back and forth between the present and Lucy’s childhood. It seems superficial at first, but gradually we see that Lucy and her mother love each other deeply. We learn that Lucy’s childhood was spent in poverty and neglect. That her marriage is destined for trouble. That her brother has shut the world out, her sister rages against it, and her mother has never said the words “I love you.”

As children, what do we really want, other than for our parents to love us? And as parents, what do we really want, other than for our children to love us?

Despite never hearing the words, Lucy knows her mother loves her. She even forgives her, if not explicitly, then implicitly. Mama Barton knows she hasn’t been the mother Lucy wanted or needed.  Mama Barton loves her in the best way she knows how, and while that may not be enough for Lucy….it also is. Lucy loves her anyway, fiercely.

That said, Lucy knows she’s more than the life she grew up with. She accepts her mother for who she is, but is determined to change the script with her own daughters. She doesn’t rage against the world or shut it out like her siblings….she changes it. She builds a family, builds a career, and lets go of things that don’t fulfill her.

This is a story about changing what you can, and forgiving what you can’t. About life and love in all it’s imperfect forms.  About how we choose who we want to become, but how we take our past with us.

My Name is Lucy Barton is for everyone who ever wanted their parent to be something they wouldn’t – or couldn’t – be. For every parent trying not to repeat their own parents’ failings. For every child desperate for their parents’ love. For every person trying to escape their childhood. For everyone who both hates and loves their parents

And, for everyone who needs a good cry and a bowl of pasta.

4 stars