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My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Published on Sunday, January 29, 2017

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Cold Comfort

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

In this book, we meet thirtyish Lucy Barton in her hospital bed where she is recovering from an inexplicable illness following a fairly commonplace surgery.  The story opens with Lucy longing to be out on the streets of New York by day.  From her room, she has a view of the Chrysler Building that lights up the sky during her lonely nights.  She finds it beautiful, inspiring, but aloof and out of reach – much like her mother’s love.  She misses her two small daughters, but doesn’t seem upset that her husband William doesn’t visit – he’s not keen on hospitals.  Lucy makes excuses for him, but the reader senses that there might be marital problems.  Lucy feels a deep connection to her kindly doctor who lost family members during the Holocaust, but the story takes off when Lucy’s husband sends for her estranged mother to visit with Lucy in the hospital. 

Bearing the scars of a childhood of poverty, filth, hunger, isolation, and violence Lucy longs for a connection to her family, and is happy to see her mother.  But her mother immediately falls into shallow, gossipy conversation about people Lucy knew growing up, the mistakes they made, and the misery of their lives.  And the stories do not comfort.  They only serve to stir up bad memories for Lucy.  Clearly, the relationship between these two women is, was, and always will be fraught with misunderstanding.  

We learn that Lucy was a lonely child, rejected cruelly by her peers and teachers.  Her best friend was a tree.  She discovered that reading books helped her feel less alone.  Reading and studiousness promises to be Lucy’s salvation when she earns a scholarship to attend college and sets out to be a writer. Eventually, she marries a man of some means and has two little children.  Some of her stories have been published and, in time, she has some success as a writer. In her life and her work, Lucy is trying to make peace with her past, but some damage cannot be repaired.  The hospital visit from Lucy’s brusque and discomforting mother just brings back memories of a heartbreaking childhood, and it just brings to the fore, the reality that Lucy’s mother can no more fulfill her emotional needs now than she could when Lucy was a child. 

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