Amy and Isabelle : a novel

by Elizabeth Strout

Paper Book, 1998

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Random House, c1998.

Description

In a small town in New England, a girl has an affair with her schoolteacher. Amy Goodrow lives with her protective single mother and the novel examines the way the scandal affects their relationship.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Wow, that was one intense and emotional read.

In Amy and Isabelle, a mother (Isabelle) struggles with her 16-year-old daughter Amy's emerging sexuality. Isabelle is a single parent, focused on making ends meet and doing what's right for her daughter. But she is completely unaware of Amy's true thoughts and feelings, and of what she gets up to during and after school. Amy falls hard for her new math teacher, Mr. Robertson, and he takes advantage of her. The story opens after their relationship is discovered, fills in the months leading up to that point, and then addresses the aftermath of discovery.

This was an emotionally charged story on many levels. Amy's naiveté, her strong desire for independence, her loathing of parental authority, and her immaturity that led to unhealthy decisions ... these all rang true to me. And Isabelle. Poor Isabelle, trying so hard to forge a healthy relationship with her daughter, but alienating her instead, and unwittingly passing on some of her own life mistakes. As the mother of teenage daughters myself, I could feel her pain. Isabelle's response to Amy's relationship with Mr. Robertson absolutely tore me apart: a single act of uncontrolled anger nearly destroyed her relationship with Amy.

In the wrong hands, this story could be trite and overblown. But Elizabeth Strout has amazing talent. First, she writes beautiful descriptive prose, putting the reader right into the scene:
It rained lightly for two more days and then the sky suddenly cleared just as darkness fell, leaving for a few moments a strip of luminescent afterglow along the horizon from a sunset that had not been seen. ... By early morning a delicate strip of clouds high overhead looked like a thin layer of frosting spread across the side of some blue ceramic bowl. Mourning doves cooed unseen in the fine light; cardinals and hermit thrushes darted from one tree to another, calling out. (p. 246)

Strout also develops rich, complex characters and relationships. Take, for example, the women Isabelle works with in the office at a local mill:
So there were a variety of joys, large and small, taking place throughout the town, including a hearty laugh between Dottie Brown and Fat Bev as they sat at their desks in the office room, the kind of laugh (in this case regarding Dottie Brown's mother-in-law) that comes from two women who have known each other for many years, who take comfort and joy in the small, familiar expressions of one another, and who feel, once the laugh has run its course -- with an occasional small giggle still left, and a tissued patting of the eyes -- a lingering warmth of human connection, the belief that one is not, after all, so very much alone. (p. 125)

But perhaps most powerful is her unique way of foreshadowing. She'll drop a tiny detail into the story, one that seems inconsequential until she adds another tiny detail, and then another, each many pages apart. It's a bit like adding hot sauce to chili: add a drop, taste, add another drop, taste, add another drop, and suddenly your mouth is on fire. I found myself scrutinizing every tiny detail: was this one important? Where was she going with this? She's not going there, is she?! In this way she built up parallel stories of mother and daughter to an intense climax. And at that point I had to set the book aside, breathe deeply, and go hug my own daughters.
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LibraryThing member womansheart
Self-connection may occur after years of isolation ...

Last night I finished [Amy and Isabelle: A Novel]. Here is a mini-review:

Amy and Isabelle was a very interesting read, though the topic might be difficult for some readers who eschew reading about sexuality and human beings. The novel contains so many compelling elements, but, the element that stands out for me is the redemption of the older female protagonist in the novel, the mother, Isabelle.

As did her other most recent female "force of nature", [Olive Kitteridge] she came to trust and know herself.

The other characters are so fully realized, I felt as though I knew these people pretty well. Terrific writing about the feelings of a young girl's sexual awakening and the circumstances under which that occurs. Way more than a melodrama, as story that could be from many people's lives.

Excellent book. Five stars.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
A wonderful mother-daughter relationship story that brings in lots of outside characters which the author deftly develops. You really get to know these people. Mother Isabelle is a single mother bringing up daughter Amy in a New England mill town in the 60's. Amy is Isabelle's life and when she gets involved with her Math teacher, Isabelle is actually jealous of the relationship. She regrets that her love life is completely empty. The story revolves around this relationship, the office staff at the mill where Isabelle works, UFO sightings, a missing teenager and class struggles. Strout is a master at developing these themes and resolving, in the end, Amy and Isabelle's relationship. Excellent!… (more)
LibraryThing member rainpebble
Couldn't do it; just not enough interest to hold me.
LibraryThing member TinaV95
Review copied from my Orange January thread.

I finished Amy and Isabelle last night. Not sure how to describe my initial feelings other than that it took me a while to 'get into it.' I didn't really identify with either the mother or the daughter at first. Frankly, the mother annoyed me in the beginning. BUT... as good books go, I ended up liking both characters, sympathizing with both and rooting for the happy ending. I also ended up reading swiftly through when I originally thought the book was quite slow going and just okay for me. Mother-daughter fiction usually makes me cry, but at least I didn't here! I wanted a reallllly happy ending for these two, but then again I'm the romantic sort who reads to escape reality and the mundane. So, if I were rating, I'd say Amy and Isabelle gets 4 to 4.5 stars from me.

Not a very cerebral review, but there it is....
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LibraryThing member swortman
Having read Olive Kitteridge and being amazed I decided to venture into another dark and brooding Elizabeth Strout novel and wasn't disappointed. This is a book of characters. There's the brooding, yearning daughter, the neurotic guilt-ridden mother, the sad, stalward office-mates and the mysterious, romantic yet cruel teacher. Every one bursting with life.

Elizabeth Strout writes so beautifully it makes you wish you had a pen or pencil to underline certain passages. You can smell the fedit, yellow river running through town. You struggle with the impossible humid, scorched summer as it builds to a climax of nerves. Each word is the exact word and correctly placed. It's not offensively dramatic but helps to take the reader into a story he or she never knew was possible. No wonder she won the Pulitzer Prize.
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LibraryThing member kellyn
Having recently read Olive Kitteridge I decided to read earlier books by Elizabeth Strout. I read about ten pages of Amy and Isabelle when I realized I had read this before. Generally this "forgetting" is not a good sign. However I decided to keep reading and am glad I did.

Elizabeth Strout depicts the self-doubt and confusion of both mother and daughter as she depicts the interactions and thoughts of Amy (adolescent daughter) and Isabelle (mom). Amy and Isabelle misunderstand, dislike, love and react to each other with painful intensity; I cannot recall such a realistic portrait of the mother-daughter relationship in another book. Amy and Isabelle keep "missing" each other as each becomes increasingly caught up in their own pain and confusion. Isabelle, in trying to protect Amy, ends up alienating her and undermining what little sense of self Amy has. Amy appears without grounding or hope and finds the attention of men essential and yet destructive. Isabelle finally begins to cautiously seek friendship among her coworkers and this helps her release Amy from providing her own only source of companionship. This book is about the dreams that women have and how real life intrudes and sidetracks those dreams often in ways that bring unexpected grace and welcome connections.… (more)
LibraryThing member CasualFriday
In the late 60s/early 70s, Isabelle and her daughter Amy live an isolated life in a small New England town. Both of them are reserved and proper and have few relationships outside of each other. When Amy is seduced by her math teacher, their relationship is shattered, and Isabelle's carefully constructed self-protection is threatened with destruction.

The plot sounds so Oprah-esque (indeed, Oprah produced the TV movie), but it is not as melodramatic as it sounds. What makes the book rise above the typical family-problem novel is the naturalism of the writing. Strout's prose is lyrical but not showy, and with her close attention to detail, she evokes the small town of this era perfectly. The office full of women - if you've been there, you know how well she portrays this. Isabelle and Amy are very ordinary people - not great intellects, not tortured souls, just insecure human beings. Strout never overstates her case here, not even the obvious case against the creepy math teacher. We sympathize with both mother and daughter even as we shake our heads sometimes.

The difference between this novel and the insipid Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish is that Strout is concerned with particulars, not principles. She presents a closely-drawn picture of humans in all their emotional complexity, and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.
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LibraryThing member Fullmoonblue
[Amy and Isabelle] by Elizabeth Strout

I'd never read a thing by her before, and picked this up by chance. Something about the setting called to mind Joyce Carol Oates, and so too did the promise of sexual tension between a young woman (Amy) and her teacher (Mr. Robertson). It had me expecting something akin to Oates' [Marya: A Life].

Now, in my opinion, Strout is no Oates. But there were moments in the book that really stood out, and which made it feel worth reading for me. Most reviewers seem to find the mother character, Isabelle, somewhat more compelling than the daughter, Amy, but I found both portraits convincing and engaging. Amy's high school friend, Stacy, is a different story unfortunately (somehow, little about that character rang true for me; her voice never seemed real). And I found the 'Fat Bev' character kind of flat until toward the end... but Strout did flesh her out (pardon) very nicely in the final chapters.

To close, I have to add that I found the taut, tense, detailed descriptions of Amy's near-obsessive teenage infatuation with her math teacher totally believable. Especially in the second part of the story, after their former relationship has undergone a sudden change. Strout evokes, with Amy and nearly every other character too, a sense of being watched: small town people watching one another, everywhere they go, eager either to pass judgment or else to go home and beat themselves up for falling short.

The only major character whose inner world we see NONE of is Mr. Robinson... which is fitting, I guess, but this reader really missed it. If he (or any male character, really) had been given any emotional presence in the story at all, I think I would have given it a slightly higher rating. Maybe their absence was part of Strout's point, and intentional, but I think it would've added an important dimension. As is, I'd have trouble recommending this book to a male reader; their kind don't come out too well in Amy and Isabelle's town, the perhaps aptly-named Shirley Falls.

3.5 stars
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
An Oprah book that I probably would have cherished when I was about 16. Strout gives each of her characters a distinct and believable voice, most especially teenage Amy, who speaks a little and thinks a lot. It's a character-driven novel, which I like, but the character development is predictable almost from the first page. The weather-related symbolism is a bit heavy-handed but I could've lived with the too-neat ending...if only Strout hadn't also felt the need to spell out exactly what lessons we were supposed to learn from it.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrstreme
Elizabeth Strout is a master at creating female characters that grow on you as you read the story. This was the case in the brilliant Olive Kitteridge - and the case in my latest read, Amy and Isabelle.

Isabelle Goodrow was a well-meaning but insecure woman who was raising her teenage daughter, Amy. Isabelle felt that she was doing a good job as a mother until she discovered Amy’s affair with her teacher. Isabelle was devastated. She was torn between reporting the teacher and keeping Amy’s secret in a gossip-ruled town in which Isabelle so desperately wanted acceptance. More importantly, Isabelle felt betrayed by her daughter and jealous of her sexual escapades. Amy became a daughter she didn’t know anymore.

Meanwhile, we learn about Amy – a beautiful but shy teenage girl who, like her mother, was unconfident and tried her best to fit in. Amy did not see her mother as an expert on life, mostly because Isabelle was so reserved, and easily fell into the arms of her knowledgeable teacher. Little did Amy know that she was living a life parallel to her mother’s teenage years.

I loved how Isabelle developed from a smug, self-righteous woman to an open-minded, accepting mother and friend. As I first started to read about Isabelle, I kept thinking that she needed to lighten up. However, I realized that her quiet reserve was a front because she was always worried what people thought about her. Amy was another interesting character – Strout offered up pieces about Amy, but I did not feel any resolution to her insecurities.

If you enjoy reading about mother-daughter relationships, then I highly recommend Amy and Isabelle to you. I can’t wait to read Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.
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LibraryThing member aimless22
Mother/daughter relationship in Strout's novel illustrates in the extreme just about all mother/daughter relationships. Well-drawn characters both major and minor. Some issues hit close to home and brought up memories both good and bad.
LibraryThing member bookwormteri
A wonderful novel about girls growing up and how mothers try not to let their daughters make the same mistakes that they did. I was moved at times, incredibly frustrated at times, and completely identified with both characters. A great read.
LibraryThing member rfewell
Mother/daughter story of unwed mothers and societal expectations.
LibraryThing member amandacb
An excellently-written, poignant story about a relationship between mother and daughter. The daughter begins a sexual relationship with her teacher and the aftermath is infuriating, enlightening, and ultimately bonding.
LibraryThing member missmaya
fast read, interesting, maybe not memorable, but enjoyable
LibraryThing member readingrat
The author does a wonderful job bringing each of her characters to life and making them believable.
LibraryThing member silenceiseverything
While reading Amy and Isabelle, I found that my feelings were varied. Sometimes I enjoyed the book, other times I found myself just reading it for the sake of finishing it. I wasn't content, yet not unhappy enough to put a halt to the reading. So, towards the end of the book, I was happy that I kept reading, but not for the book itself, but mostly because another book off my shelf has been read.

Amy and Isabelle starts off a little slowly and really doesn't pick up until the middle. That's when I started enjoying it a little more because that's when I really couldn't put it down and did end up finishing it the same day it picked up. However, the slow start wasn't the kind of slow start where the author was building the scene, so to speak, it was just the sort of slow that just drags on and on and that had me putting the book down from time to time. If a book allows me to put it down and then be a bit ambivalent at picking it up, then I don't think it's necessarily doing its job.

In Amy and Isabelle, the mother and the daughter are disconnected from each other and from the world. Elizabeth Strout did this a little too well because while reading the book, I felt disconnected from the characters. I was reading with a sense of detachment and I didn't really care about the characters. I cared about the overall problem, yes, but them individually, not so much. And then we have a slew of other characters who are taking up space and I really didn't care about them either. They seemed to have absolutely no purpose in this book.

I gave Amy and Isabelle three stars because sometimes, it was extremely compelling and I really couldn't believe some of the things Isabelle did to Amy. However, the bad sort of dampened my enjoyment of the book. If this review sounds mildly confusing, then that's how I basically feel. I enjoyed the book, but not really...
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LibraryThing member karinnekarinne
What a thoroughly depressing book. Elizabeth Strout is competent and some descriptions in the novel were perfect, so it isn't that it's badly written, just oh my god I never want to read this again. I'm sure I'm supposed to get a message of hope and find that friendship comes from the corners you least expect it to be lurking in or something but I just want to get the time I spent on Amy and Isabelle back.… (more)
LibraryThing member moonshineandrosefire
Amy Goodrow, a shy high school student in a small mill town, falls in love with her math teacher, Thomas Robertson. What passes for a while as just a simple high school girl's secret crush, crosses from fantasy into reality when Thomas and Amy begin a secret love affair with each other. When this emotional and physical trespass is discovered, it brings disgrace to Amy's mother, Isabelle, and intensifies Isabelle's feelings of shame about her own past.

Mother and daughter - whose relationship was initially extremely close - suffers an almost physical blow, as both Amy and Isabelle retreat into icy silence towards each other. Amid the minor problems faced by many of the citizens in Shirley Falls, Maine, Amy and Isabelle have a more private misery: an seemingly unbridgeable chasm has opened up between them and nothing will ever be the same again.

I thought that this was a wonderful book, a superlative book. The characters were entirely believeable and the book was written with incredible feeling and attention to detail. In my opinion, Elizabeth Strout did an excellent job in getting into her characters heads and describing their motivations. I give this book an A+! and have placed two more books by Elizabeth Strout - Abide With Me and Olive Kitteridge on my Wish List.
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LibraryThing member LauraT81
I really enjoyed this read, but I already knew the story because I'd watched the movie years ago. There is a coldness in the lives of Isabelle and her daughter, Amy, that Strout paints perfectly despite the summer heat that is described. Now that I've read this I would really like to read more by this author.
LibraryThing member carmarie
Another book I really enjoyed. Not because of the drama...but because of the relationship between daughter and mother. Isabelle (the mother) had such a boring life, it was almost normal, someone real would have a life like that. And she was painfully jealous of her daughter, even if she might not have known it. Really good story.… (more)
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
What a great read about a repressed mother and daughter with some pretty good foreshadowing of her later book, Olive Kitteridge.
LibraryThing member lycomayflower
Amy and Isabelle arrived at a more satisfying conclusion than I expected it to as I was going along, but I was still fairly disappointed with it. The novel is carefully observed and the characters sharply drawn, but there is an air about the thing of a fiddly preciseness which sucks the life out of both the story and the prose. All elements of the plot--indeed, of the very sentences--slot together so cloyingly perfectly that no surprise, no joy, no anticipation, no heart, lives on the page. And life itself, in Amy and Isabelle, seems to be small, dreary, hopeless, and without joys. This is partly the point of Amy and Isabelle as characters, and there is some glimmer of hope of its lifting for Isabelle at least in the end. But by God does it make for wearisome, frustrating, teeth-grinding reading. Eat a cookie, Isabelle! Pick a flower! Do something. I do not expect, or even want, my books to be all teacups and rose petals, but I am suspicious when every character who populates a novel is less happy than everyone I know. People, whole towns, do not live like this, surely, not even in books?

In my review of Prep the other week I said that I kept waiting for Lee to grow up, and I'm itching to say something to the same effect here about adolescent Amy and her (pathetic, blind, aching) love for (creepy, smarmy, hateful) Mr. Robertson. But maybe it's the opposite that we need. Grow down! Footie jimjams and adventures under the stairs for everyone! Be happy! And don't, for the love of all things holy, lose your faith in everyone. And eat a GD cookie.
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LibraryThing member grigoro
Intense story of a mother/daughter relationship.

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