This is a quiet little book. I found it quiet and gentle, and yet the themes snuck up on me. I found myself caught off guard thinking about them. And although, Lucy’s story is not my story, it left me thinking about my own story.
Lucy Barton grew up in a troubled family. Her father is haunted by his actions in World War II, and is unable to keep jobs or provide for his family. They are extremely poor and live in a rural area of northern Illinois. Lucy often goes hungry and stays after school in the afternoons to keep warm and avoid going home. During this alone time at school, Lucy immerses herself in books and her school work. This leads her to earn a scholarship to college and the chance to escape her home.
As an adult, Lucy is hospitalized for several weeks due to complications from an appendectomy. Her mom comes to visit her for several days, and Lucy begins to ponder her relationship with her mother and her own daughters. She also notes the relationships of other mothers and daughters, but refrains from commenting on them further because they are not her story.
Of course, this made me think of my relationship with my mother. While Lucy has an extremely troubled relationship with her mother, that is not my story. My mother and I have always had a close relationship, and we are not afraid to say “I love you”. While my mom has always been there for me, one of the greatest things she taught me was to fight my own battles. The best advice she ever gave me was that there will always be “that person” no matter where you work or go to school. So learn to deal with that person and don’t run from job to job trying to find someplace without a that difficult person. That place doesn’t exist.
However, she was always ready to step in when I needed back up. Much to my mortification, I was an “early bloomer” and started my periods in the 5th grade. My male teacher once reprimanded me in front of the whole class for taking too long in the bathroom. He also took points off my “citizenship grade” for this infraction. Like a BOSS, my mom marched up to the school and set him straight. He never bothered me again. I have always loved her for that.
Lucy’s relationship with her mother informs her relationships with her own daughters. As a boymom, this is definitely unfamiliar territory for me. I recognize that my relationship with my parents influences my relationship with my boys. However, the mother-daughter relationship is much different than the mother-son relationship. I honestly feel the mother-son relationship is much easier and there is less conflict. This definitely complicated things for Lucy, but it also helped her clarify the kind of mother she wanted to be to her daughters.
Lucy found refuge from her loneliness in books. I can’t say that I felt the same kind of loneliness that Lucy did, but I do find refuge in books. I have been a voracious reader from an early age, and books have always helped me feel like I am not alone. Books have helped me to embrace what I used to consider my weirdness. Now I embrace myself and what makes me unique. I think that Lucy eventually found this place, too.
Lastly, this is not just a mother-daughter story. The book is also filled with small stories of New York. But what sets these New York stories apart is Lucy’s perspective. Lucy grew up outside of the modern world and pop culture. She not only lived in a rural area, she was also isolated by the lack of television, radio, and magazines in her home. So she watches New Yorkers with a much more open mind and is able to focus on the actual person and not all their trappings.
This was not necessarily a book that I couldn’t put down, but it was a book that I couldn’t stop thinking about. And it made me think about my own life and my place in this world. And to me, that is one of the best things about books.
Book: My Name is Lucy Barton
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publisher: Random House
Date Published: January 12, 2016
Source: Net Galley ARC