Oh William!: A Novel

by Elizabeth Strout

Hardcover, 2021




Random House (2021), 256 pages


Fiction. Literature. HTML:NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ? Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout explores the mysteries of marriage and the secrets we keep, as a former couple reckons with where they??ve come from??and what they??ve left behind.  ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Maureen Corrigan, NPR??s Fresh Air ? ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Time, Vulture, She Reads ??Elizabeth Strout is one of my very favorite writers, so the fact that Oh William! may well be my favorite of her books is a mathematical equation for joy. The depth, complexity, and love contained in these pages is a miraculous achievement.???Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.  Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are.  So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret??one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout??s ??perfect attunement to the human condition.? There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together??even after we??ve grown apart.  At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. ??This is the way of life,? Lucy says: ??th… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Lucy Barton, the main character in My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, is back in Oh William!, an account of her relationship with her ex-husband. But as in her other novels, this becomes a reason to look back over her own life and how it intersected with her ex-husband's, how she got
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along with his mother, and culminating with him asking her to accompany him on a trip to visit the area his mother grew up in, in conditions that weren't too different from Lucy's own.

Elizabeth Strout writes movingly and so clearly about people that even though her novels are not really plot-based, they are a delight to read. This one is no exception. Lucy grew up in an impoverished household and she often reflects how that has formed who she is, she also thinks about the teacher who helped her and how she has never really felt at home anywhere, or even entirely visible. And her own idea of how she appears to others is challenged by William's comments about her over the course of their post-marriage relationship. Strout writes about ordinary lives better than anyone else.
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LibraryThing member poolays
DNF. I need to remember that I don’t really like Elizabeth Strout’s books. I find them slow and depressing. And yet I keep picking them up. Go figure.
LibraryThing member Narshkite
Ms. Strout never lets me down. What a joy to read about this relationship, one we rarely see represented anywhere, between loving and supportive ex-spouses/co-parents of adult children. And through that relationship we learn so much about so many other relationships. We see the contentment of
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Lucy's relationship with her second husband, recently deceased. We see the joyful relationship Lucy shares with her daughters and the complicated relationship with her late mother-in-law, who understood Lucy even more than she had previously realized. We ride alongside Lucy as she continues to reckon with her horrible childhood and as she begins to give herself credit for the successful life she built having come from dirt. Also, we have an interesting adventure with Lucy and ex-husband William. Strout writes gentle stories about non-gentle things. Here we look at grief of several types stemming the loss of a parent, a spouse, a career, a dream of parenting, and of the illusions that form parts of our identities. Strout addresses the corrosive effect of secrets held and revealed, and the danger of assumption. She sees and understands people in a way few authors (few humans) really do. I learn from her with every book and I treasure the time I spend with her.

If you have not read the earlier Lucy books, or at very least the first, My Name is Lucy Barton, I would say this is not the place to start. I think it might work as a stand-alone, but I expect you will get about 50% of the pleasure and power of this book without the backstory. With the backstory, it was just about perfect.
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LibraryThing member KarenRice
Elizabeth Strout's books are about real people, described with authority. But I often have to wonder why. While reading this bon-bon of a book, I kept thinking about what I could be reading instead.
LibraryThing member fredreeca
William is on a quest to find his long lost sister. He had no idea she existed and now he is determined to find her. William is a character we all know. He is a father, an unfaithful husband and a son who has been lied to. How he has handled all of this has not been great. He is human and he has
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made some mistakes. When he brings his ex wife, Lucy, along with him to Maine, it opens ups some old wounds along with some new ones!

William is someone in which half the time I want to hug and protect and the other half I want to pinch and say “watch your mouth!” Then there is Lucy. She has made mistakes in her life and she is learning to live with her decisions. Even though they have been divorced for quite a while and are now friends, these two still have lots of baggage.

No one does dysfunction like Elizabeth Strout. She takes the reader on a tour of therapy. She makes you, as a reader, examine your own life. Sometimes you are the victim and sometimes you are the aggressor. The first time I read a novel by this author, I was not a fan! However, I saved that novel and some of the underlined passages. And I have always come back for more! So, there is something about this author which makes such a huge impression. And this novel about William is one that opens your eyes to many issues between husbands, wives, children and mothers.

Need an emotional read you will not soon forget…THIS IS IT! Grab your copy today!

I received this novel from the publisher for a honest review.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
Written from the voice of Lucy Barton, a character in two previous books written by Strout. Lucy, married twice, has recently lost her second husband David. In her grief of David, she travels back to memories of her first husband, William. William was easy to love, but difficult to live with. Yet,
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Lucy knows William may just be the only person who knows her totally.

I had difficulty with the repetitive phrases and ideas. I can't recommend this latest book when compared to her others.
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
Elizabeth Strout is a favorite writer. Her work is deeply compassionate, leaving readers better people for having read her. She addresses the mysteries of life and human relationships.

Lucy Barton first appeared in My Name is Lucy Barton, which was followed by Anything is Possible. Now, Lucy returns
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in Oh William!, reunited with her first husband who is in crisis.

Both Lucy and William have lost their spouse; Lucy’s husband has died and William’s wife has left him. William has learned that his mother had a child from her first marriage that he never knew about. He asks Lucy to accompany him on a trip to Maine to learn about his half-sister.

During their days together, Lucy remembers their love affair and marriage, and William’s lovely, if intrusive, mother Catherine.

“I came from terrible bleak poverty,” Lucy tells us, escaping after winning a college scholarship. She has been haunted by her early life, scarred by its depravations and lack of love, unable to truly feel safe in her marriage to William. Later, she found success as a writer and discovered the man who became her second husband.

The loneliness of marriage and family, how we never really understand or know each other, or even ourselves, is the theme of the novel. William learns his mother had surprising secrets that help explain her behavior.

“Only many years later did I realize I had been sustained by a myth,” Lucy explains, as she comes to gripes with the mythologies of her life, the relationships that brought her a sense of security.

I related to William’s unexpected discovery researching his ancestors. In my research, I encountered something quite shocking and unbelievable about a beloved grandparent.

We keep so many secrets in this world. As Lucy concludes, “we are all mythologies, mysterious, we are all mysteries, is what I mean.”

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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LibraryThing member sleahey
Lucy Barton's life is examined and expanded in this continuation of the story that began with the publication of My Name is Lucy Barton. Now we are immersed in Lucy's later life when she has long been divorced from William and recently widowed by David. Her complexities are revealed through her
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relationships with them, as well as other family members. At his request, she sets off on a road trip with William who is reluctantly delving into secrets from his past and wants her support. Lucy's first person narrative is ostensibly about William. and her conversational tone includes readers in the journey even as we recognize how much her observations reveal about herself. As a Mainer I was interested in her descriptions of "The County," which I found both accurate and amusing. This novel stands alone, but readers of Strout's earlier works will be delighted by the added richness of Oh William.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.

I have read each of the novels in this Amgash series, although I have only vague memories now of the first two. This was beautifully written and very hard to review somehow. It concerned Lucy's on-going friendship with her first
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husband William, the father of her children. It was less sad than the first two books I think, with Lucy more at peace and settled into her identity. The reminiscences about her teacher Miss Nash made me cry.
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LibraryThing member tamidale
I love how Elizabeth Strout’s novels center around the same characters from Lucy Barton’s life. In this novel, Strout chooses to write about Lucy’s ex-husband and the father of her two daughters.

Even though Lucy and William had been divorced for many years, their daughters having grown and
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married, they managed keep a good relationship. Like old friends, in a sense. When William hits a difficult time in his life, he turns to Lucy to confide in.

A family secret on William’s side is revealed, he and Lucy share a road trip of discovery and find that they had more in common than they realized. During the trip, Lucy reminisces about her past and their marriage, which gives the reader a better understanding of what this couple is going through.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for allowing me to read an advance copy. I loved the story and am happy to give my honest review.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
How much better can this author get? She’s written two sequels to two of her renowned novels, and this one takes Lucy Barton on journeys forwards and backwards from her stay in a NYC hospital, decades before this one begins. Like her Olive, Again, this story can stand alone, but is improved by
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reading (or re-reading) My Name is Lucy Barton, the prior novel. Lucy is divorced from William and the widow of David, her cellist second husband; the mother of two grown daughters; and a successful writer. She is, however, approaching seventy and still scared of many things, as befits her unspeakably horrible childhood of abuse, poverty, and neglect. Although there's always wonder in her eyes and voice at how far she has traveled from ugly Amgash, Illinois, Lucy feels safe - "Hansel and Gretel safe" - only with her ex-husband William, who has been married twice post-Lucy. They travel together through desolate rural Maine to meet a surprise half-sister William has discovered via genetic testing, and all the joys and horrors of their marriage, and of their childhoods, come spilling out. Strout can capture the essence of a situation, a memory, a fear, and a burst of joy, better than any author of our time. Her consistently upward trajectory, getting better and better with each novel, is an amazement. It's like watching the Beatles up to and including Sgt Pepper's - how much greater can they get? How can they keep this up? What happens next?

Quotes: “People are lonely, is my point here. Many people can’t say to those they know well what it is they feel they might want to say.”

“After I left [William], there was a time I called him and said: Should we really be going through this? And he said: Only if there’s not something different you can bring to the marriage.” There was nothing I had.”

“Each morning – every morning David said this – “Lucy B, Lucy B, how did we meet? I thank God we are we.”

“There was something about her that seemed fundamentally comfortable inside herself, the way I think a person is when they have been loved by their parents.”

And in the acknowledgements: And to Laura Linney, who unwittingly and miraculously gave bloom to this entire book, thank you as well.
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LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
I always love anything that Elizabeth Strout writes and this is no exception!
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Reeling from the recent loss of her husband David, Lucy Barton reconnects with her first husband, William, who is turning 70. For his birthday, William’s current wife gave him an ancestry testing kit, which he initially scorned. But when the test identifies a likely older half sister and William
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must confront family secrets, he turns to Lucy for moral support. Lucy, too, finds these revelations difficult to process. William’s mother Catherine showed Lucy love that her own parents were unwilling or unable to express, and Lucy cared for Catherine during her final days. William and Lucy take a road trip to Maine in an attempt to track down William’s half sister and understand more about Catherine’s life before William was born.

While this storyline is important, Lucy’s thoughts are the main focus of the novel. She reflects on her relationship with William, past and present, and with their adult daughters. She remembers her early days with David, and mourns his loss. And she considers her own life’s trajectory, from childhood poverty to successful writer, in a way that questions whether she really deserves all that has come to her.

Elizabeth Strout writes in Lucy’s voice, following her train of thought and dropping meaningful details into the narrative largely by recounting memories. It’s difficult to describe the emotional impact of this quiet, contemplative sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton, but it tugged at my heart from start to finish.
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
Elizabeth Strout’s writing is beautiful, engaging and heartbreaking in it’s simplicity. What seems so simple is a masterfully crafted story of a life shared for years, estranged for many and realized once again. A study of grief - solitary, terrifying rendering the stricken invisible. A study
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in compulsion only a writer can identify and maybe typify. A study in terror - in the middle of the night - nightmares - how to identify and reason the cause - how to make it all go away - it has never been gone. A study in finding yourself after years of inner isolation, realizing that you are capable of knowing what is inside and finding the surprise of realization and acknowledgment of understanding. A study in personalities with quiet, subtle divergences into inner thoughts with flash points of understanding. “What a strange thing life is.”

I don’t know how Strout does it but the force of her title “Oh William” resonates in your mind as you hear her whisper it, in your heart as you feel the the impact of the words through all the visceral memories described in exquisite prose.

Thank you NetGalley and Random House for a copy
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LibraryThing member alekee
Lucy Barton quickly became a friend, I felt she was telling me her most private thoughts.
We end up living her life with her, and notice the parallels between her and her ex-husbands mother, wow!
This is an in-depth look into family dynamics, and boy does Lucy end up going deep.
Even though long
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divorced I loved the beautiful relationship between Lucy and William, she is there for him!
Now this is the first book in this series that I have read, but will go back and pick up the others!
I received this book through Net Galley and Random House Publishing, and was not required to give a positive review.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Loneliness, grief and the long tentacles of ones childhood. The scars inside, often so different from the person we let others see. Here, Lucy lets the readers into her long relationship, friendship with her first husband, the father of her two grown daughters. Told in a straighforward manner, a
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conversational tone, we encounter a Lucy that is both vulnerable and wiser. Now older, she realizes how many of life's trials, her childhood, her marriages, her writing career have all blended into the person she has become. There is tenderness and empathy in her relationship with Wliiam. A forgiveness and acceptance that she has now found. The brashness she had used in the past to cover her internal insecurities have led to a new, stronger and accepting Lucy. I liked this Lucy. She could be any of us, that have hopefully reached the age where we can accept who we are. I think that is what appealed to me. Why the character of Lucy appeals to readers in general.

Though it is not necessary to read Strouts previous books, this one could stand alone, I think it would
enrich the reading experience.
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LibraryThing member bibliovermis
This wasn't my favorite Elizabeth Strout book, but no matter what the content I just love her writing, the voices of her characters, and the detail and beauty they recognize in mundanity and small moments.
LibraryThing member richardderus

My Review
: I, alone among US adults 49-64, did not like Olive Kitteridge. I was lukewarm about My Name is Lucy Barton, but I didn't find it intolerably tedious. I truly can't think what made me ask Random House for a DRC of this book, but
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ask I did and they, unaccountably, said yes.

I'm really rather glad they did.

Lucy Barton is greatly more to my taste than Olive ever was. Amgash, her terrible isolated childhood, her absolutely clueless bumblings through parenthood, childhood's memories, learning to be Other with her mother, her *her*ness, rubbed me the right way as opposed to Olive's sandpaper-on-a-sore-tooth effect on me.

This story comes to me when I am Lucy's age, and I am also taking stock of my many pasts. William, father of Lucy's two daughters, wasn't the right husband for her nor was she the right wife for him. (Two more failed or failing marriages later, no one seems to be.) But they're friends. And as anyone who's ever been married or long-term-coupled will tell you, that's the thing that lasts. Their continued use of Button, her nickname from William, and Pillie, his nickname from her, is signaling this is a friendship for life. What her divorce stemmed from was, I suspect she is now coming to realize, a misunderstanding of what their true connection was.

But why, after decades apart, are we back in the position of hearing about William? Because the crisis in his life, learning an unwelcome truth about his own mother (whose relationship to Lucy was always cordial, if fraught on Lucy's side), and realizing that at seventy-one he is not going to Make It Right without trying (for once!), draws him right back to his heart-stealing first wife. She, whose second marriage was so very happy until he died on her, won't ever say No to Pillie. (Skip over the divorce bit.)

What transpires in this book was that rare and precious thing: Self discovery. Pillie and Button don't have all the time in the world, and they don't have a lot to lose as a result. Their relationship-long ability to connect in honesty (which is also why she left their marriage) is, at this late date, the most precious and unbelievably rare gift each has to give; the gift that each is now grateful to receive.

Lucy's old. She's had time to marinate in her failures. And she *still* obsesses about surfaces and appearances! Such a little thing, her snarky asides about what others are wearing and who can't make a decent speech; but so instantly relatable. Her life-long isolation and Otherness, relics of the childhood she survived, are never going to be gone, finished, dealt with. And that knowledge is how she can relate to William, how she can find her way to being his friend...he's got the issues she's got, just from other causes. Where Lucy was made to feel invisible, William was made to feel he could only be BIG. It comes to the same thing in the end: Are you going to leave a hole in the world when you leave it?
Grief is such a—oh, it is such a solitary thing; this is the terror of it, I think. It is like sliding down the outside of a really long glass building while nobody sees you.
I have always thought that if there was a big corkboard and on that board was a pin for every person who ever lived, there would be no pin for me.

I feel invisible, is what I mean. But I mean it in the deepest way. It is very hard to explain. And I cannot explain it except to say—oh, I don’t know what to say! Truly, it is as if I do not exist, I guess is the closest thing I can say. I mean I do not exist in the world. It could be as simple as the fact that we had no mirrors in our house when I was growing up except for a very small one high above the bathroom sink. I really do not know what I mean, except to say that on some very fundamental level, I feel invisible in the world.
These two people, these old friends, are groping towards the sense of life as it was lived being, when all is said and done, okay. Not great, not awful, okay. And the grief of that, the waste of "okay" to the world, is what they're learning to shrug off.

Eight decades on Earth and growing up never stops. If you're lucky. Pillie and Button are lucky. So are you and I, if we go with them.

Does my rating now seem mingy to you? I suspect it might. I'm not being unkind when I say there is a chemistry between writer and reader that I do not feel with Author Strout. Her phrase-making is often crazy-making for me. Her dithering women make me so so so so glad I'm gay. There are, of course, men who dither but thankfully I scare them off. I spent this whole book wanting to shout at Lucy, "GET TO THE POINT!!" when the point was that she doesn't. That made the read much more of a chore than a pleasure. But the story Lucy lived with her friend William, the story they're still living, was so very touching and moving and deeply agreeable to me that I powered through my desire to enact domestic violence upon her as she dithered and divagated and wittered *deep breath* Okay. Enough about that.

So there's the missing star-and-a-half. On the cutting-room floor, shall we say. But I want to be clear about this: Of the three books by Author Strout that I've read, this is head-and-shoulders above the rest and is the only one I will say, "read this, you will like it," about. It can be read as a stand-alone. It is better read after My Name is Lucy Barton, though. If you've already read Lucy Barton, you should trot right over to the bookery you prefer to patronize to get this before the COVID shortages make it impossible. Or, like me, get it on Kindle/e-reader.

But do get it.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Oh William: A Novel, Elizabeth Strout, author; Kimberly Farr, narrator
This is a tenderly told story of Lucy Barton’s relationship with her first husband William. Lucy Barton loved William; he made her feel safe. However, after two decades, she left him. William had been unfaithful. When he
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remarried, Lucy and William remained very good friends, even after she remarried David. She always maintained strong feelings for William, through all the years they were separated, and their friendship seemed to endure. Their common children enjoyed the company of William’s new, much younger wife, Estelle, and their young daughter, as well. They even traveled together.
When Estelle left William and Lucy’s second husband died, within a short time of each other, William was a great source of comfort to Lucy, and she was, as in turn, a comfort to him. This was not always his strong point, however, especially when they were married. Lucy had truly loved David, had in fact pursued him and initiated their relationship, and it was David who was her comfort, as William had once been her source of strength and security.
When William discovered secrets about his family, both Lucy and William embarked on a trip down memory lane to try and find out more about William’s past. His father had been a German POW during WWII and had worked for an American farmer. He had married his daughter. She was William's mother, but she had not been a very good one, although she professed deep love for him. When his father died, she was very sad and they fought all the time. She was not a hands-on mother and he felt rejected, which indeed, he was, by mother, wives and newly found sister. When William discovered, at the age of 70, that he had a sister, Lois, he never knew about, he wanted to find her. She had truly been abandoned by his mother, but she had known about William and resented him.
Lucy thought that William had symbolically married his mother, when he married her, because she felt she had some of the same dysfunctional, negative qualities of his mother’s personality. She wondered, did she, too, marry her mother, a mother with whom she had made peace, in the end? Both William and Lucy had had such troubled childhoods, perhaps that was what drew them together to begin with. Brought up without the attention or affection that most children crave and thrive with, they still managed to survive, but they carried the scars of their pasts with them into adulthood.
Lucy values her relationships, her marriages, her children and her life, even those from her past who influenced her. William truly valued only one person, a person who had shown him great but short-lived kindness, at school, when he was very young. Lucy and William remained loyal to each other and were kinder to each other in their old age than they were when they were younger. They seemed more tolerant and more compassionate, better able to accept the shortcomings of each other and of those with whom they interacted.
The novel tells the story of this deep relationship between Lucy and William and attempts to explain the different direction in which each of their lives traveled as they moved apart and then together again. It is touching and sweet, and so simply told, as Lucy describes how she deals with other people, even those who slighted her. She thought of others reactions and reacted to them accordingly. She will make you wonder if one every truly really knows or understands someone else completely, not only strangers you become involved with but even someone with whom you share a life or have deep affection for, like your own children, as well.
In the end, when William shaves his moustache, the reader may be reminded of the legend of Samson and Delilah, but in this instance, Delilah is a good influence, not a tragic one, she gives strength and does not rob it. Lucy no longer needs William for his strength, but William needs Lucy a bit for hers. They both grow more enlightened about the world and what they need to take from it. Their relationship was one of loyalty and continued devotion, long after they were separated. It made a better environment for all of them. They were all different, some needed to live sparingly, some with excess, but all treated each other with respect, in the end. It is simply a very nice story.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
Strout has a real talent for making the mundane daily lives of people interesting. What readers will take away from this story about Lucy Barton, is that the past is never totally gone, that life isn’t as straightforward as we would wish, and that we need other people. Lucy has been in other
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books, and its not necessary to read them to enjoy this book. Lucy is grieving for her second husband, David. She’s remained friends with her first husband, William, and in this story becomes even more connected to him as William’s third wife walks out of his life and William discovered he has a half-sister—a sister his mother gave up before marrying William’s father.
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LibraryThing member mdoris
What a gem this book is! It is an intimate and personal look at a marriage, and the friendship with a former husband. It shows how we are mysteries to each other and bring so much background of family history into the union. Strout's writing is so tender and insightful and full of feeling. I really
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liked it!
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LibraryThing member LoriKBoyd
I have read such glowing reviews for the previous books that I couldn’t wait to curl up and read. I had not read the first two books, and did not have a hard time catching up or following. I will say, I wonder if my opinion of this book would be better if I had read the other two. My first
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warning should have been ‘Pulitzer Prize Winner’ … I just can’t find the same love.

This book was too slow moving for me, I found myself skimming and then rereading. I found I couldn’t relate to the characters and for me, not very likable. Found the relationships odd and unfulfilling. Although this book wasn’t for me, I can see where fans of character driven books would love it.

Thanks to Ms. Strout, Random House and NetGalley for this ARC. Opinion is mine alone.
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LibraryThing member amysan
I enjoyed revisiting the characters from My Name Is Lucy Barton again and especially her reflections on her ex-husband, William.
LibraryThing member nyiper
Another Elizabeth Strout book to love. Lucy is just plain special as a thoughtful and totally intriguing character who tells the reader what she thinks and tries to uncover why she thinks the way she does. A wonderful book.
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Strout is brilliant as usual. The title alone conveys the poignancy, nostalgia, wistfulness, and all the complicated emotions Lucy feels toward William, her ex-husband. I didn't want it to end.


Booker Prize (Longlist — 2022)
Globe and Mail Top 100 Book (Fiction — 2021)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2022)


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