My name is Lucy Barton : a novel

by Elizabeth Strout

Hardcover, 2016




New York : Random House, [2016]


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.

Media reviews

I was in Lucy Barton’s head from the very first page. It’s rare when this happens – when the words of a book hypnotize you. The experience doesn’t feel like reading at all. It’s like falling into someone else’s consciousness...Strout’s skill in channelling Lucy’s voice is
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breathtaking, especially considering it’s the first time the bestselling author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys has written a novel in the first person....This ability to love life, to notice small kindnesses, to remember the light in the sky and across the fields rather than the horrors of her childhood home, is Lucy’s salvation. It is what we allow ourselves to see that helps us survive.
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My Name Is Lucy Barton confirms Strout as a powerful storyteller immersed in the nuances of human relationships, weaving family tapestries with compassion, wisdom and insight. If she hadn’t already won the Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge, this new novel would surely be a contender.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
This was a quick afternoon read. Lucy Barton, now a successful novelist, looks back on her life, most notably a childhood lived in poverty and her relationship with her emotionally distant mother. Some of the memories are looked viewed from the present, but most go back nine years, to the time when
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Lucy, seriously ill, was hospitalized, and her mother, who she hadn't seen or spoken to in years, suddenly shows up at her bedside. Lucy takes this opportunity to ask some significant questions and to try to better understand her estranged family. It's also a chance for her to better understand how events shaped her own personality and life choices.

I was not much of a fan of Strout's Olive Kitteridge, and I did like this one better. Strout is a very fine writer, very insightful into her characters' minds, emotions, and motivations. But she seems to be drawn to unlikable--even mean-- characters who spend their lives trying to hide some lack in their own life experience that causes them to hurt others who don't deserve it. And for me, this gets a bit tiresome. It's not that I'm looking for Pollyanna all the time; in fact, I'd be bored with that. It's just that it takes more for me to empathize with a very unlikable character than what she offers.
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LibraryThing member ctpress
A mother comes to visit her daughter in the hospital. The daughter is sick with a long-term illness - after some days the mother leaves.

There’s the plot for you. I can’t say I enjoyed this short novel very much. I was bored most of the time and only stayed with it because it was so short.

To me
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the dominant theme was loneliness - and I would say Strout succeeded with giving a portrait of a woman who have to battle estrangement - being brought up in a home without much love and intimacy. At least while reading I felt the loneliness in my bones. The book is very cold - but maybe that’s exactly what the author wanted to achieve. So I’m a little conflicted as to the rating.

Could be a good one to throw into a book-club - it’s short and I think people are either going to love or hate it.

Oh, and then it’s on some book-list this year. Hmmm…am I getting into trouble here?
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LibraryThing member vancouverdeb
Lucy Barton drew me into her story immediately. The novel is told in the first person and I was entranced by Strout's ability to capture Lucy's voice so authentically. The story is not plot driven, rather we get a memoir- like look into her life, past, present and future. Via this non -linear but
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easy to follow story, we get to know Lucy and her family.

As the story begins, Lucy is young woman in her early thirties, in hosptial recovering from what should have been a simple surgery, but unfortunately some sort of infection prolongs Lucy's stay in the hospital for nine weeks. As Lucy says" I had a husband and two small daughters at home ; I missed the girls terribly and I worried about them so much I was afraid it was making me sicker." p4 Her husband hates hospitals, so he and the children visit Lucy only a couple of times. Instead, husband William arranges for Lucy's mom to visit her in hospital.

Lucy and her family of origin have been estranged since Lucy's marriage to William. Lucy grew up in poverty, with parents who were abusive and unable to express love to their three children. Lucy was able to escape this life due to her success and love of school . While in hospital, Lucy and her mother spend five tender but strained days together, and chat about the past and present. Lucy is a soft , gentle person , very attuned to others' emotions. Upon her mother's arrival to the hospital , Lucy asks " Mom, how did you get here?" "Oh I got on an airplane." She ( Lucy's mother ) wiggles her fingers and I knew that was too much emotion for us. So I waved back and lay flat." p7.

The essence of My Name is Lucy Barton can be summarized by this quote about her family of origin :" I kept thinking how the five of us had a really unhealthy family , but I saw too how our roots were twisted so tenaciously around one another's hearts." p167

A story that echoes so many of our family relationships, how much we care, how much we love and long to be loved, but so often we do so very imperfectly.

A beautiful, tender, non-sentimental read that really resonated with me.

4. 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This is a slim and exquisitely written novel. Lucy is in the hospital for several weeks. This is in NYC in the mid-1980s and she's alone; her husband is juggling their two young children and his job and can rarely visit. Then her mother arrives and spends several days sitting with her. That's the
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The beauty of this book lies in how much Strout can pack into a single paragraph. As Lucy lies in her hospital bed, she remembers her childhood living in the midwest in family so poor they lived some years in a relative's garage, crammed up against fiberglass insulation. It was an abusive and non-nurturing environment, and Lucy contemplates how her childhood affects how she sees the world, and her relationships. Written when she's older, looking back on that time she spent ill and alone, she also sees how this was also the time when the AIDS crisis was just beginning and how fearfully it's victims were treated.

I wish I'd been able to read this book in a single sitting, and been able to give it my full attention. It deserved that. I'll have to return to it in a few years and read it when I can properly appreciate it. Despite reading it in a piecemeal and distracted fashion, I can clearly see that it is something exceptional.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
Sarah Payne is Lucy Barton’s mentor and role model. At one point, she tells Lucy, “You will have only one story. You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.” Similarities in her body of work so far lead one to suspect that this may be the case
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for Elizabeth Strout also. It is a testament to her skill that one wonders about autobiography in her writing.

Lucy’s story is a family troubled by poverty, a brutal father and a mother who is in denial. She suffers a lonely childhood where her main solace comes from books. “They made me feel less alone.” After receiving a college scholarship, Lucy manages to escape to Manhattan, reinventing herself through marriage, two children and a writing career.

This story seems simple enough—almost mundane. Yet Strout tells it with such finesse and nuance that one marvels at her skill. Lucy is her narrator. Her voice is totally believable. Her speech evokes Midwestern reserve and lack of cynicism. She meanders in and out of flashbacks, all the while dropping little bombs that ultimately shape the story and explain who she is. The plot has three layers. Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois is impoverished both financially and emotionally. Her mother’s hospital visit is filled with gossip but little actual reckoning. Her life in Manhattan exposes Lucy to the wider world and especially to the writing craft. Strout reveals these plot lines in a convoluted, but utterly believable way. She often hints at, but does not always reveal details. Instead of acting as sources of frustration, these gaps give the reader things to ponder. They also lend the story its power because they recreate the way people actually process their past—in bits and pieces, with omissions, embellishments, misunderstandings and especially repressions. Small events often have profound impacts on a life and Lucy struggles to make sense of hers. Once again, the words of Sarah Payne seem important. “If you find yourself protecting anyone as you write this piece, remember this: You’re not doing it right.”

Her mother represents the key to understanding Lucy. She loves to gossip about other people’s problems, but is in denial about her own. Despite his extreme cruelty and brutality, she remains loyal to her husband. His refusal to accept Lucy’s spouse because of his German ancestry was bad, but the way he treated his own son following a childhood experiment with cross-dressing is truly jaw dropping. Her father’s behavior seems to be exemplary of a wider pathology that may have even involved Lucy herself. Strout does not reveal the cause of Lucy’s melancholy, but one suspects her father may be its source.

Lucy’s mother refuses to acknowledge her husband’s bad behavior except to dismiss it as war-related. Likewise, she fails to express any affection for her children. Lucy accepts a certain amount of aloofness as integral to her mother’s character. “I feel that people may not understand that my mother could never say the words I love you. I feel that people may not understand: It was all right.” In spite of this, her mother shows affection obliquely by remaining awake during the night in her hospital room and finding Lucy after she is sent for a CT scan. Lucy’s husband seems to have had some role to play in orchestrating her estranged mother’s trip to the hospital, but this is one of those details left to the reader’s imagination.

This novel is remarkably nuanced and deceptively deep. At first blush, it seems rather simple and almost pointless, until one begins to reflect on it. It is short enough to re-read and I suspect that may be a worthwhile pursuit.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
Don’t let the brevity of this story lead you into thinking there’s not much to it. Far from it, it leaves you with memories of motherhood and childhood. By placing the story in a hospital room, Stroud is able to cut to the chase as the patient, Lucy, interacts with her own mother who has come
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to visit her daughter. Lucy and her mother share memories, and the comparison to what mother remembers to that of her daughter’s memories, can be different. But these memories help shape adulthood as Lucy thinks about her own relationship with her young daughters. This well-crafted book deserves the praise it has gotten. I imagine, like many readers, I often paused to think back on memories I shared with my mother.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.

Lucy Barton’s story centers on a pivotal time in her life, when she was hospitalized for several weeks with a sudden unnamed illness. Her husband took charge of the
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household and their two young daughters, and arranged for Lucy’s mother to visit her. She appears unannounced at Lucy’s bedside, providing instant comfort despite their obviously strained relationship. During her stay Lucy reflects on many aspects of her childhood and takes tentative steps to form a different type of relationship with her mother.

As Lucy reveals the emotional scars from her past, we also get tiny glimpses into Lucy’s early adult life, and the years following her hospital stay up to the present. Elizabeth Strout drops tiny details into Lucy’s narrative that sometimes don't have meaning until later, when several dots connect for a surprising emotional impact. The prose is spare and the entire book is less than 200 pages long. Some readers object to this but for me it paradoxically increased the intensity of the story.

My Name is Lucy Barton made me reflect on maternal and marital relationships, the ease with which people can hurt one another, and how difficult it can be to repair the damage. Powerful stuff.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
It's common knowledge that the best writing can almost be read as spoken words. Here the remarkable Elizabeth Strout creates a fictional character who could possibly be herself (her nickname is "Weezie Dee") or could be any other woman you pass on the street. But what a woman.

The core of the plot
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is a long hospital stay. Her mother, summoned from the Midwest to NYC after no meeting between them for decades, appears and catnaps by her side, never leaving, for five startling days. Secrets and mundane recollections are revealed and some are reburied. The equivalent weights of childhood and adult life are shared, unburdened, and repacked.

Worthy of two readings. Indelible.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout, author, Kimberly Farr, narrator
When the book begins, Lucy tells the reader that once, in the 1980’s, she had been in the hospital for nine weeks from an appendix operation gone wrong. Her story revolves around this confinement; and this is her story.
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managed to survive a very dysfunctional childhood in ways her siblings did not. She was totally unworldly having never even seen a television show growing up or gone to a move. She was bullied at school and neglected at home because of her poverty, but she bore no grudge against anyone. When she managed to get an education and move away, she never returned home, but she continued to not only want her parents’ love and acceptance, she also continued to love them.
Lucy eventually married, had a family and became a published author. When she had to have her appendix removed, her recovery was impeded by an unknown infection that attacked her. Unable to eat and hold food down, she could not leave the hospital. Her husband hated hospitals and could not bear the sights or sounds. Lucy was sad and lonely. Without telling Lucy, he called her mother and asked her to come to “babysit”. She remained there for 5 days, watching over her daughter, hardly sleeping, just sitting there and talking to her about the people she knew from her past, calling her by her pet childhood name, Wizzle-dee. Lucy was childlike, wondering why her mom had come to see her, asking if she loved her. Although her mom’s parenting skills may have been lacking, her presence comforted Lucy. She and her mother began to bond and converse as they had never done before. Pieces of her past and the painful moments of her life were revealed as their conversations moved easily back and forth in time from the present to the past. Were her memories real or imagined? Was there really a big brown snake? Was it something else?
Although Lucy asked her mom many questions, she did not give direct answers and revealed nothing personal about herself except for a brief comment about not feeling safe. Her mom was an enigma. She certainly was not maternal, although from their conversations, it was apparent that she cared for Lucy. Still, she left the hospital abruptly on the day Lucy was scheduled for further surgery which was telling. She left never seeing her son-in-law or her grandchildren for the first time. She simply announced that she knew everything would be all right, and in spite of Lucy’s cries for her to stay, she left.
Over the five days her mom sat and talked with her in her hospital room, visibly showing the effects of her illness with her frailty and thinness, she and her mother spoke to each other as they had never had before; her mother told Lucy about all the people they had known. She identified their weak spots, found their faults and shame and exposed them to Lucy. They laughed together about the tragicomic tales her mother told. Her mom was invested in the emotional pain of strangers in much the same way that Lucy was invested in those that showed her compassion, like her doctor, her artist, and other men in her life. Her mother’s devotion to Lucy during her visit was complete. Although her mom was not demonstrative and was at times abusive, was she also loyal and loving? As they spoke to each other, Lucy was unsure if her memories were real or imagined. Lots of thoughts and questions raced through my mind as I read the book, none of which were answered, in much the same way as Lucy’s questions also remained unanswered!
I found the book interesting. Through Lucy’s thoughts, we see the overworked nurses and witness the resultant lack of attention and true care given to the patients whose cries go unanswered. As the thoughts of Lucy and her mother are revealed, we witness the unfolding of a neglected mother-daughter relationship. We discover they are both needy, both in some emotional and psychological pain, both refusing to reveal their innermost secrets to the other and both unable to speak of certain events in their lives. Both are still dysfunctional. Her mother was able to intuit a great deal about her child, even without having seen her for years. She apologized to Lucy for their poverty, the poverty that subjected her to humiliation.
This story is about a mother and her child from both perspectives. Lucy also had her own children whom she missed terribly in the hospital. Was Lucy’s mom correct in her perception that all would be well for Lucy in the end? It seemed to me that because Lucy had not experienced open affection at home and experienced hostility outside, she sought respect, love and affection from others ever after, but was surprised when she received it and didn’t believe her self worthy of the attention. Their thoughtfulness amazed her. She carried her childhood sense of loss and insecurity around with her, and she wondered if her mom had suffered as well as they somewhat revealed their hearts to each other.
The narrator reads this book in the manner in which it was written, slowly and laboriously, she reads too slowly. There is actually dead space on the audio; caused by her lengthy pauses, for effect; water might boil faster. Fortunately for me, I had a print copy to fall back on.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
I liked the book, but I'm sure I didn't understand some of what Strout was trying to get across. Very short book, but I appreciate that. I liked the language and the rhythm of the writing, and I felt like I really liked Lucy -- although at the same time I wasn't really sure who she really was.
LibraryThing member KamGeb
I had loved Olive Kitteridge by the Elizabeth Strout, so I thought I would like this book also, but I didn't. I think the problem is that I didn't like Lucy Barton and her mother. I also didn't relate to their relationship and the whole book is about the two of them. The only reason that I gave it
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a 3 and not lower is that the writing itself is very good and some of the statements Lucy Barton said made me think. But the book as a whole was a disappointment.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite authors, so I was excited when I received this book as the January selection in the Parnassus First Edition Club. The story takes places primarily during a seven-week span when Lucy Barton is in the hospital with an undiagnosed illness. For five days of the
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stay, her mother comes to visit her from Illinois. Through their conversations and Lucy's memories, we gradually learn about Lucy's childhood, her decision to leave Illinois and move to NYC, and her dream's of being a writer.

Although the story is simple, Strout's treatment of it is anything but. In only a few pages, she made me care deeply about Lucy and want to know more about what led her to become the woman she is. We see Lucy's mother primarily through Lucy's eyes, but it is a satisfyingly complex portrait. Their relationship is complicated, but loving. Because of the way that the story is told, in short memories or conversations about other people, we don't get a chronological account of Lucy's childhood, but somehow deeply understand her experience.

Another interesting element is that the story is written as if Lucy is writing it, and we hear Lucy reflecting on the choices that she makes as an author, how she tries to reserve judgment about her characters and how this is not a story about her marriage (although it certainly plays a role).

Although relatively short, this book is rich with layers. I highly recommend it!
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LibraryThing member Neftzger
The story centers on a woman who is hospitalized for an illness, which is the point in time from which she begins to make sense of all the imperfect forms of love she's experienced in her life. Central to this insight is her relationship with her mother who comes to stay with her during those few
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days when the doctor is trying to figure out the cause of the illness. The writing is solid and the book does a great job of exploring the basic need love, even in it's most broken forms.

Note: I was given a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton may not be the thickest novel you read in 2016, but it is a novel whose deceivingly simple plot and characters are likely to stick in your mind for many months to come. This is especially true of Lucy Barton and her mother, two women whose relationship
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can best be characterized even on its best day as “frosty.” When faced with a rare opportunity finally to reconcile their differences, these two are as likely to make things worse as they are to make them better.

This is very much Lucy Barton’s story and she tells it in her own words and at her own pace. Growing up Lucy Barton was not an easy thing to do. The Bartons were among the poorest of families in little Amgash, Illinois, and everyone knew it – and worse, everyone treated them accordingly. Lucy, the Barton who escaped Amgash, now lives in New York City with a family of her own.

Confined to a hospital bed for what to her seems like forever, Lucy is battling a postsurgical infection that refuses to succumb to treatment. She misses her two daughters terribly and only sees her husband during sporadic, short visits. But lonely as she is, when she wakes up one day to see her long-estranged mother sitting at the foot of her bed, Lucy hardly knows how to react – or what to say. All they seem to have in common, really, is a shared memory of the townspeople back in Illinois, and both women find it easier to limit conversation to that safe topic rather than to risk an exploration of what went wrong between them. Try as she might to break through her mother’s emotional walls, Lucy knows the likelihood of doing so is not high.

Two of the saddest narrative reflections imaginable say it all:

“I feel that people may not understand that my mother could never say the words I love you. I feel that people may not understand: it was all right.”


“I have no idea if she kissed me goodbye, but I cannot think she would have. I have no memory of my mother ever kissing me. She may have kissed me though; I may be wrong.”

Layer by layer, Elizabeth Strout has constructed a haunting novel peopled by what are destined to be two of 2016’s most memorable fictional characters. My Name Is Lucy Barton is a beautiful book.
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LibraryThing member Karen59
Lyrical, harsh, beautifully written, My Name is Lucy Barton tells the story of a mother-and daughter and their reunion after years of estrangement. It is a short book and this makes it even more compelling for the core of the story is laid bare. We see Lucy laid up in the hospital sick with a
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brutal infection and how Lucy's mother, vigilant and loving, comes to her bedside. We also see that even after so much absence there were barely any words spoken about the abuse and abject poverty of Lucy's childhood and the harshness of their lives. No mention of the years living in an unheated garage, or being locked in a trunk by her father, a veteran with PTSD, or that her brother and sister are living sad lives as adults and that Lucy is the one who got away. Instead there is gossip, reminiscing, laughter and yearning. And there is forgiveness. At times, I wished for more. I wanted to know more about Lucy's current life, about the vicissitudes of her marriage, how she did it differently with her children, but in the end I realized it didn't really matter to me. What mattered were those 5 days in a hospital where mother and daughter connect and Lucy's redemptive journey towards peace and understanding. As Lucy Barton's writing teacher tells her many years later when she writes about her childhood “People will go after you for combining poverty and abuse. Such a stupid word, ‘abuse,’ such a conventional, stupid word. . . . This is a story about love.” And it is.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for allowing me to review this book for an honest opinion..
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
2016, Random House Audio, Read by Kimberly Farr

Publisher’s Summary: adapted from
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
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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.

My Review:
So, I read and loved both The Burgess Boys and Olive Kitteridge, but Lucy Barton was not at all to my taste. I found nothing tender here between mother/daughter – not even the beginnings of anything tender. What I found was the continuance into adulthood of a dysfunctional, imbalanced relationship, which started early in childhood. Lucy Barton lived her first twelve years in a filthy garage, fettered by poverty and abuse. While it is possible her mother’s attempt to reconnect with her comes from a place of love, she simply lacks the skills to discuss their past for what it was: so instead, she gossips about past neighbours whose marriages have failed.

I do not recommend, but readers interested in Lucy Barton will find many that have.
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LibraryThing member jenn88
This book lacked any depth or warmth. It seems to be Lucy Barton's jot notes of her life, with Dr. Seuss-like writing.. "I waited quite a while, quite a while I waited."

If I change a few words around in this paragraph I swear the author was talking about me:

"By the end of one hour her face looked
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like it had fallen the way white clay loses its shape when it's not cold enough, that is the image, that her face had dropped into a strange shape from fatigue, and at the end of three hours it seemed even more so, as though her white clay face was almost trembling. It took everything out of her to teach that class read that book, is what I am saying. Her face was just ravaged with fatigue."
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
"It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think that it's the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down."

After complications from surgery, Lucy Barton has
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to stay in the hospital for 9 weeks. She has not seen her mother in many years, but her husband asks her mother to come keep her company in the hospital. For several days Lucy's mother sits with her in the hospital, occasionally conversing, and evoking memories of her difficult early life for Lucy.

Lucy came from poverty, but was able to go to college and now leads a normal "middle-class" life. Her mother and father and the rest of her family remain in poverty. Her mother is taciturn, does not express emotion, has withheld affection from her children, yet Lucy craves her love. As she lies in the hospital bed, she contemplates her childhood of poverty, abuse, and how she ultimately arrived where she is now.

Strout tells the story in short episodic vignettes. I thought that this was a very good portrait of a difficult mother/daughter relationship, and of the longing for love and acceptance that a childhood without love causes.

First line: "There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks."

Last line: "All life amazes me."
3 1/2 stars
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
The best way I can sum up my feelings about this book is that I don't feel much about it at all.

Lucy Barton is in hospital for 9 weeks, and during that time her mother - whom she hasn't seen in a long time - comes to spend 5 days with her. She gets her mother to regale her with anecdotes about this
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one and that one from their past, and she tells her mum that she loves her, and her mum can't say the words back to her (but we know that she does), and.... well, that's about it really.

I know we're supposed to get all sorts of hidden depths from this book, but I just wasn't feeling it. I didn't not like it, but I found it instantly forgettable. Quite nothingy.

3 stars - what was the name of it again?
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LibraryThing member bragan
A short, low-key novel that consists mostly of a woman thinking back over the time when she was in the hospital for nine weeks and her mother, whom she hadn't spoken to in years, came and sat with her and gossiped about other people's marriages. There's a lot of stuff about family, about growing up
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in terrible poverty, about the tendency of people to look down on others, about marriage and relationships, about trauma... But it mostly we're just given little fragmented glimpses of all of these things, rather than being presented with any kind of cohesive narrative. Which isn't a bad thing, but it does make it a little hard to get hold of it all in my mind in order to know quite what to say about it. It is written in a style that seemed almost a little too delicate and careful, a little too self-aware, a little distancing. But since it's meant to be the main character writing it, and her writing is also part of what the novel is about, I think that style is itself part of her characterization, maybe even an effective and clever one.

Whatever it's doing, overall, it worked for me. I'm not sure it would have if the book were any longer, but for 200 quiet little pages, it worked.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
At the urging of several friends, I began Elizabeth Stroudt’s novel, Olive Kitteridge. I barely made it to page 20 before I invoked the rule of 50. This was 2011, and about 4 years later, I came across Kitteridge as a movie starring Frances McDormand, an actor I greatly admire. So, I decided to
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have another go at Olive, and I loved it. Now my book club has pressed upon me My Name is Lucy Barton. This time, I was determined to get through to the end.

Lucy Barton was admitted to the hospital for an appendectomy, but side effects lengthened her stay to almost nine weeks. Her husband occasionally visited, but it wasn’t until her mother arrived to stay at her bedside that things really began to percolate. Lucy had come from a poor family in Amgash, Illinois. The other children teased her unmercifully about her clothes, her family, and her body odor. Lucy spends most of her time in the hospital musing over her life. At first, I thought this would be boring, but it did take an interesting turn.

Lucy describes her childhood, “Until I was eleven years old, we lived in a garage. The garage belonged to my great-uncle who lived in the house next door, and in the garage there was only a trickle of cold water from the makeshift sink. Insulation nailed against the wall held a stuffing like pink cotton candy, but it was fiberglass and could cut us, we were told. I was puzzled by that, and would stare at it often, such a pretty pink thing I could not touch; and I was puzzled to think it was called ‘glass’; odd to think now how much time it seemed to take up in my head, the puzzle of the pretty pink and dangerous fiberglass we lived right next to every minute” (22).

Strout writes about Lucy’s thoughts of her sister, “How Vicky managed, to this day I don’t know. We were not as close as you might expect; we were equally friendless and equally scorned, and we eyed each other with the same suspicion with which we eyed the rest of the world. There are times now, and my life has changed so completely, that I think back on the early years and I find myself thinking: It was not that bad. Perhaps it was not. But there are times, too – unexpected – when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true. But when I see others walking with confidence down the sidewalk, as though they are completely free from terror, I realize I don’t know how others are. So much of life seems speculation” (14).

This dysfunctional family communicates poorly, and it seems to have parents unable to express any but the most obscure grains of affection. Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton is an interesting journey of introspection for Lucy. This time I am glad I ignored the “Rule of Fifty.” 4-1/2 Stars

--Jim, 1/16/17
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LibraryThing member lansum
There is such truth in this short, simple book that most people will find something that touches them within its pages. My Name is Lucy Barton: A Novel, is essentially a fictional memoir about a woman born into rural poverty but attends college, marries, has two daughters, and lives a much more
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comfortable life in New York. Without intentionally doing so, she has grown alienated from most of her past until she finds herself in the hospital for a fever of undetermined origin. Lucy is surprised to find her mother sitting in a chair at the foot of her bed one afternoon. Thus begins a renewal of their fragile relationship. This is not a Hallmark card novel. It's much too real for that. It is a quiet, sensitive, beautifully written portrait of a lonely woman struggling to understand herself and the world around her. Thanks to Pulitzer prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout.
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LibraryThing member Dreesie
In this quick read, Lucy Barton tells the story of her life. Kind of. She hints at the depth of abuse and poverty she experienced as a child--hunger, cold, neglect, and perhaps more. Bullying at school--and she strongly remembers the one teacher who would not tolerate it.

And she got away. And had a
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rather normal life, with kids, marriage, divorce, plenty of money, a successful career.

And then the book ends. It was all just a little too vague for me--I was expecting some kind of bug reveal or showdown between family members. But it never comes.
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
I listened to My Name Is Lucy Barton on audio (read by Kimberly Farr) rather than reading it as a book. This departure from my typical format may have affected how I perceived the narrative.

Despite her childhood of deprivation in rural Illinois, Lucy Barton makes it big as a writer in New York
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City. Along the way she becomes estranged from her parents and siblings. When complications from surgery land Lucy in the hospital for a weeks-long stay (this part is set back in the eighties when such a thing was possible), Lucy's mother appears at her daughter's bedside for a reunion. The two gossip about people from Lucy's hometown. Lucy's too-good-to-be-believed doctor takes care of her. Eventually Lucy recovers and returns home, and classic New York icons (The Yankees! Bloomingdales!) are once again subject to Lucy's gushing appreciation. However, she finds that her mother's visit has stirred up unresolved childhood issues.

My Name Is Lucy Barton is a character-driven novel, and much of the reader's experience of it is determined by what he or she thinks about Lucy Barton. I have to admit I found her sensitivity, which may be the point of the book, rather irritating. Aside from her gushing about NYC, there is also the matter of her developing intense emotional connections (usually expressed as "loving") to anyone who is kind to her. The point may be that she was so deprived as a child that she gloms onto others easily (this is an adult woman who still calls her estranged mother "mommy"), but this proclivity is a bit much. She trivializes the Holocaust by using it as a personal metaphor for her strained relationship with her half-German husband. She even indulges in a bit of sentimentality about AIDS victims. She's "jealous" of men with a terrible, fatal disease because as she says, at least they belong to a community (of other sufferers, apparently; Lucy says this in the eighties when people with AIDS were heavily stigmatized). Even 9-11 is all about her and her family.

I didn't feel much empathy for Lucy Barton the character, so I didn't think much of My Name is Lucy Barton, the book. If you can, for some reason, relate to the character, you may feel differently.
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LibraryThing member etxgardener
Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is at the top of her game with this bittersweet novel of a woman exploring her life and relationships during an extended stay in the hospital.

Lucy Barton is in the hospital recovering from what should have been a simple operation, but what has led to a
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persistent infection that has her doctors puzzled. She awakes one morning to find her mother, who she hasn't seen in many years, sitting at the foot of her bed. Thus begins a conversation that has Lucy ruminating on her dysfunctional family, gossip from her small hometown in Illinois and how her longing for family, a writing career and her children.has driven every aspect of her life.

This is a beautifully written story of a woman who is lost, but who then finds herself again.
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