Monthly Archives: January 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, has recently published a new novel:  My Name is Lucy Barton.  Just before starting My Name is Lucy Barton, I read a Facebook post by another favorite author, Kelly Corrigan (The Middle Place, Glitter and Glue), about her interview with Elizabeth Strout.

I had an interesting conversation last night with Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout, whose new book rivals her most famous, Olive Kitteridge, for excellence. The thing we got to, that I so wholeheartedly believe, is that fiction is more true than just about anything else. I have profound friendships that involve deep conversation but still, there are things we just do not discuss… the terrible details of marital strife, the big holes in us that we pretend aren’t there, all our contradictions, only some of which we can see, our sex lives, our odd attractions and repulsions.  Liz made the room laugh by saying, “Right! The things we lie to our therapists about!” I’ve wondered my whole life why fiction exists and persists across time and culture. And now I feel like I know: because we can be honest there, we can reveal ourselves, see one another, fully and finally.

The story:  Lucy Barton, aspiring author, mother of 2 young children, wife,  is in the hospital for a lengthy stay. She is recovering from an appendectomy whose complications keep her there for 9 weeks.  At the request of husband, Lucy’s estranged mother comes to visit her for 5 days. During this time, Lucy shares memories from different parts of her life, trying to make sense of different relationships-lovers, her doctor, old friends, and especially the relationship with her mother.  Some of these have feedback from her mom, and some are more interior, for Lucy and the reader alone.  I found I was moved more so by moments of genuine love and kindness than by her hurts, but both are authentically expressed.

Lucy is a quick read, but one you can savor.  It is loving and honest, but not bitter.  There are passages I wanted to tab because they make so much sense, because they reflect what is most true.  My Name is Lucy Barton is definitely on my list of books I am glad I read!  What did you think?

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Eleanor a novel by Jason Gurley

Jason Gurley began writing Eleanor in the fall of 2001, and self published it in 2014.  Crown published it this year.  Eleanor is literary fiction with a fantasy element.  It is a moving exploration of parenting, siblings, grief and forgiveness.  So, for a person who steers clear of self published books, rarely reads fantasy and mid winter, doesn’t voluntarily pick up a book about grief and loss, how does that all come together in a blog-able book?  Surprisingly well!

Eleanor and Esme are twins, and you enter their life when they are 6.  They are getting ready to drive with their mom, Agnes,  to pick their dad up at the airport.  Agnes has never really bought into the whole idea of motherhood and is a reluctant parent at best.  An accident takes the life of one twin, and as the years go by, that loss destroys their parents’ marriage and Eleanor’s relationship with her mother.  Agnes becomes an alcoholic, and Eleanor grows up taking care of her despite her abuse.  Sad realistic fiction…until Eleanor is catapulted into another realm, and begins to move back and forth between her life and another world or time.

Figuring out this other world and why Eleanor keeps ending up there is an interesting puzzle. Every time I thought I might just set Eleanor aside, something would hook me and I would feel compelled to keep reading.  Like Eleanor, I wanted to figure this story out.

And here is what I figure:  I think grief and depression, especially postpartum, are strong forces.  When we grieve a loss, especially of a sibling, especially in an accident, we might look back and ask at what point was this accident and this loss put in motion?  Could I have stopped it?  How?  Can that loss be explored through “what ifs”  that are beyond space and time as we know them?  If I could go back and change the course of history, even at great cost to myself, would I?  How far back would I go?

And that fellow readers, is why I kept reading  Eleanor.  That moment to return to is not where you think.

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3 Sharp Short Story Collections

In my January stack of new books is a delicious little volume of short stories with an intriguing cover entitled American Housewife:  Stories by Helen Ellis.  Love the cover, and while I can’t say I curl my hair or file my nails wearing my readers, this book found its way to the top of the pile and into my hands.  I fell asleep reading “The Wainscoting War,” a clever email exchange between two neighbors about the decoration of their common hallway, and as soon as the kids were on the bus I began “Dumpster Diving with the Stars,” reading until I could no longer put off getting ready for and heading to work.  It is that kind of book.  I am not always in the mood for short stories-if they are good I wish for a novel-but these stories I think I would always be in the mood for. They allow you to get the quick and dirty-the most important details with minimal commitment.   They are witty and clever, satirizing today’s woman and yet appreciating her at the same time.  I can’t wait to get back to it…

In fact, it reminded me of another volume of short stories I devoured over the summer: Single, Carefree and Mellow, a collection of short love stories by Katherine Heiny.

Single, Carefree and Mellow offers us character studies of women in various stages of relationships.  No matter what they have gotten themselves into,  you root for them to get to their best outcome.   Some of the characters appear in more than one story, so that just as they fade from immediate memory, they are back with another installment and a chance to know them a little better.  This book can be appreciated whether you in fact are single carefree and mellow, an American housewife, or somewhere in between.  In reading about the author, I learned that she published her first story in the New Yorker (what a place to start!) 25 years ago, then wrote young adult fiction.  Hooray readers! she finally came out with her first book for adults and has another on the way in 2016.

Single, Carefree and Mellow reminded me of a late summer read: Almost Famous Women, stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman.

The title tells it:  these are fantastic stories of women whose brush with fame, or with the famous, is deserving of some attention in the chronicles of history.  These women are heroines and heiresses, daughters and wives, lovers, performers, movie stars.  The “almost famous” seems to mean not so much is known, rather than not so much accomplished, so Bergman ingeniously  imagines what happened and the result is a second life for women whose names we know or sound familiar, but whose stories are overshadowed by the others in their lives.  Full disclosure:  I love the fictionalized biography and memoir.  I love to juxtapose what I know or think I know with what an author finds important.  I like the legend; I like the myth.  Bergman demonstrates compassion in revitalizing the women who didn’t quite get their own chapters in history.

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