We all have chapters in our lives. Oft times Life itself is moving too quickly to dwell on those chapters–or even recognize them. But there are other times when Life forces us to not only dwell and recognize, but to revisit, analyze, regret, wonder, and forgive.
Lucy Barton is in the hospital and having one of those forced-upon moments. Her condition is serious, but just vague enough to leave her concerned about her future. Serious enough for her mother to visit and stay at her bedside for several days. Not only does a new chapter begin, but now Lucy has a companion–sometimes an opponent–in her nostalgia.
And, like any mother-daughter relationship, this one has its own brand of unique complications: the love, the selective memory, the needs, the power struggles, the guilt, the role reversals, and so many other subtle but strong elements that many women can relate to as mothers, daughters, or both.
While other books exhibit their brilliance in interwoven plots and complex characters, My Name is Lucy Barton exhibits its brilliance in its simplicity. It’s seeming simplicity. Elizabeth Strout has touched on female emotions in an understated, but extremely powerful way–just a woman flipping through the chapters in her life, remembering events that shaped her (some mundane, others not,) acknowledging people who influenced her, and owning her decisions through it all.
The nature vs. nurture debate is not solved, but perpetuated, forcing the reader to delve into his/her own life and wonder “how much of my life is because of my choices?” and “how much of my life is because of the choices of others?”