in Contemporary Literature Fiction
With her trademark spare, crystalline prose—a voice infused with “intimate, fragile, desperate humanness” (The Washington Post)—Elizabeth Strout turns her exquisitely tuned eye to the inner workings of the human heart, following the indomitable heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton through the early days of the pandemic.
As a panicked world goes into lockdown, Lucy Barton is uprooted from her life in Manhattan and bundled away to a small town in Maine by her ex-husband and on-again, off-again friend, William. For the next several months, it’s just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the moody, swirling sea.
Rich with empathy and emotion, Lucy by the Sea vividly captures the fear and struggles that come with isolation, as well as the hope, peace, and possibilities that those long, quiet days can inspire. At the heart of this story are the deep human connections that unite us even when we’re apart—the pain of a beloved daughter’s suffering, the emptiness that comes from the death of a loved one, the promise of a new friendship, and the comfort of an old, enduring love.
Can a loveless abusive childhood lay the cobblestones of life’s road in such a way that nothing changes for the individual? Elizabeth Strout’s character Lucy seems to have developed her character with this pattern in mind. Lucy’s mother was negative and abusive and she grew up defending herself by developing a mother in her own mind that she called her “good mother.” Her good mother was always caring and lent supportive encouragement to everything she did.
Lucy’s first husband William is a supportive man, a scientist, with a compassionate heart and protective attitude. With the advent of the Covid Pandemic, he encourages Lucy and him to escape to the clean air and trade winds upon a rocky point in Maine. The weather is always colder, the wind always blowing and the days less predictable. They have escaped New York City to become isolated in a desolate prison of their own making. How could she be happy in this desolation?
William and Lucy do not live together. His affairs early in their marriage had driven a wedge between them that could not easily be withdrawn. They shared a house but with separate bedrooms and an uneasy truce. All conversations are delicately planned which avoids the obvious elephant in the room. His marriage betrayal and additional indiscretions had led her to spread her own affair wings.
Elizabeth Strout is a very gifted writer who did not leave the central theme of her story throughout the read. She develops a character who is hell-bent on being unhappy throughout her life. This centralized dogma thoroughly confounded me as a reader. I have never read such a singularly minded character before. Lucy cannot accept any real progress or happiness in her life although she did have a happy second marriage with a man named David. But he died which added to her misery.
Could anyone ever complete her as David had seemed to do? Her daughters grew up leading fairly accomplished lives but tended to avoid their mother. The reason was the negative aura surrounding her. Life becomes extremely tedious when every day seems to add more misery to an already dark existence. I kept having the beginning of that old Buck Owens song ring in my mind! “Gloom, despair, and agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery…” I believe Elizabeth Strout has developed a very dark and sensitive heroine confronting a noir-esque setting. 3.5 stars – CE Williams
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book.
Rosepoint Publishing: Three point Five Stars
Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction, Literary Sagas, Saga Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Print Length: 291 pages
Publication Date: September 20, 2022
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Links: Lucy by the Sea [Amazon]
Barnes & Noble
The Author: Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.
©2022 CE Williams – V Williams