Although I’ve enjoyed several books by Elizabeth Strout, this one was not a favorite. Although I rated it three stars on Goodreads, 3.5 is more accurate.
Lucy Barton (a woman from a deeply disadvantaged background) and William (a more sophisticated man from far greater affluence) meet in college and marry young. William’s widowed mother Catherine welcomes Lucy into the family and becomes a central figure in their lives.
William settles into a professorship in the sciences and Lucy becomes a successful writer. But after some years together and two daughters, they divorce. Despite each remarrying, they remain friends.
So when William turns 70 and receives a gift that allows him to explore his ancestry online, it’s not surprising that he uses Lucy as his sounding board. And when he discovers a BIG family secret, William asks Lucy to take a trip to research this secret together. It sounds like a bit like a set-up to a mystery novel but the novel is much richer than that.
What the author does so exquisitely is explore relationships, emotions, and psyche –especially over time. Lucy’s upbringing, William’s relationship with his mother, Lucy’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Lucy and William’s multiple marriages, grief, and all the intricate ways people dance with intimacy throughout their lives. Strout’s examination is subtle, complex, and insightful. Don’t be surprised if you recognize people you know among these characters. Perhaps even yourself.
What keeps me from rating the book more highly is the episodic nature of the book’s narrative style. Much of it is stream-of-consciousness style (short, abrupt insertions of random thoughts). And I found that kept me a bit at a distance, not quite able to fully disappear into the story. Of course, that may have been Strout’s intent for all I know. But that distance kept me from LOVING the book. Let’s say I appreciated it instead.
I DO recommend it. It’s a quick read and very engaging. As always, her characterizations are wonderful.
More about the author, Elizabeth Strout.
You may be interested in my review of another novel by Strout: Olive, Again