If you’d been here yesterday, you would have read a different post. We would have been listening to Burt Bacharach tunes and I’d have bored you with dim memories of my early childhood, listening to my parents play songs like “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and “Walk On By” in a Pennsylvania living room. Also the snow was falling and it was getting dark.
But those words vanished into the ether just as I pressed “Preview” and so today we start over and you get The Guess Who singing “These Eyes” and H munching potato chips and the dog and cat fighting over the dog bed in front of the fire.
I’m trying hard to think about how to tell you about this book, because I’m still not sure I understand all that I felt when I read it, except that it was one of those too-rare cases of my parceling out the final chapters very slowly in an effort to stave off coming to the end.
A brief summary: Lucy Barton is in the hospital for a number of weeks, suffering an unexplained infection after a routine appendectomy. She has a husband and two children, but they only briefly, shyly, distantly appear in the story. Her mother, from whom she’s been estranged ever since Lucy left home, suddenly appears in the hospital and stays for five days, barely sleeping, sometimes barely talking and sometimes telling stories of the people from Lucy’s childhood. And then, suddenly, her mother leaves.
Most of the time, we’re in Lucy’s mind. It’s not exactly stream of consciousness, but you do get the sense that you’re riding the wave of Lucy’s thoughts without any way to know which shore you’ll land on. You learn she’s lonely and always has been. That she came from “nothing” and she’ll never be able to shake that. That she falls in love with nearly anyone who shows her kindness (her doctor, for instance). That’s she’s a writer (this book we’re reading, in fact, is her first book).
Lucy is sick. Then Lucy gets well. Lucy’s mother arrives, then leaves. Nothing happens, but there’s a growing sense of something maybe about to happen (I always think of it as the “The Remains of the Day Feeling,” where everyone in the story is so buttoned up that you hardly know they’re breathing, but underneath hearts are beating oh so very quickly), not so much a storm approaching, but a gentle rain on the verge of misting down over everyone. Lucy will begin to live her life, to write, to tell her one story.
My story is nothing like Lucy’s, but I felt a kinship with her. Her wondering, her questioning, her self-doubt, her need to be close but often feeling far from people around her. The way she loves her family. The way she loves words. The way life keeps on surprising and even delighting her even in that hospital room.
My Name is Lucy Barton is a delicate thing. I’m aware it’s not for everyone. It’s a fragile egg and I feel that if I try too hard to open it up to you I’ll fracture it beyond recognition. You’ll have to hold it, warm and perfect, in your own hands.
I’ll give you the last words of her story. They don’t give anything away, but, in a way, they tell it all.
“At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn. A view of the horizon, the whole entire circle of it, if you turned, the sun setting behind you, the sky in front becoming pink and soft, then slightly blue again, as though it could not stop going on in its beauty, then the land closest to the setting sun would get dark, almost black against the orange line of horizon, but if you turn around, the land is still available to the eye with such softness, the few trees, the quiet fields of cover crops already turned, and the sky lingering, lingering, then finally dark. As though the soul can be quiet for those moments.
All life amazes me.”
Our books for this month:
- H ~ Beloved, by Toni Morrison
- M ~ S.P.Q.R. A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard
- R ~ My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
Did you read something wonderful this month? Tell us please!
The category for the coming month is:
We’ll reveal the next category somewhere around the middle of April.
This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category in the middle of next month.