“I will write and people will not feel so alone!” So proclaims elementary school-aged Lucy Barton, the protagonist of Elizabeth Strout’s new (2016) novel. And isn’t that, in the end, why most of us write?
Shaped around a five -day visit from her mother when Lucy, herself a young mother, is hospitalized for nine weeks, the sparse prose and short timespan illuminate the entire and bewildering life of one girl, one family, one marriage, one woman. Lurking in the shadows are horrors of innocence mistreated and love twisted by the ravages of life, but Lucy triumphs in a huge, albeit modestly trumpeted, way.
The themes of human existence are universal; the details of any one life are peculiar. Lucy’s include a snake, a brother who sleeps with the pigs, a physician who responds gently and from behind a barricade of boundaries to her loneliness (do we sense Biblical themes here?), and a mother who can mother only in the same way that she sleeps, in brief snatches of time, her own life fenced by fear and reserve.
If you loved Olive Kitteridge, if you know anything about the sadness of children, if you wonder how writers become writers, then you will want to immerse yourself completely in this novel.