I had mixed feelings about this book. As the much-hyped follow up to Olive Kittredge and The Burgess Boys, it has been long-listed for some prominent awards. I heard Strout speak around the time Olive Kittredge came out, and since then I have read a couple of her other novels. Strout reminded me of Olive — somewhat awkward, and prone to moments of silence where she seemed to gather her thoughts and choose her words carefully.
Lucy Barton is a similar type of character. Strout’s characters are all victims of one sort or another, tending to bear the pain stoically, like good New Englanders will do, and Lucy Barton is no different. Her impoverished childhood is remembered in bursts of spare prose and tense inner monologues. Despite the beauty of the language and the forward momentum of the action, I felt like this story just didn’t add up for me, and the lack of clarity was distracting. Plotlines seemed contrived and stereotypical, for example, the New York City setting seems especially false to me, and I felt like it was used almost exclusively to introduce the neighbor suffering from AIDS. I wanted to know more about Lucy, and her mother, her brother, her daughters, and her husband, but instead I got vivid descriptions of ancillary characters who drift listlessly in and out of the story. It is ironic to realize that the title of the book contains one of the only unequivocal statements of fact. Honestly, Lucy as a writer did not feel true to me, but toward the end of the book I appreciated that Strout wanted in some way to teach the craft of writing; this would have been great as a separate book. If, like me, you are a fan of Strout’s stories, you will find enough to like with this one, but I had personally hoped for more, based on all the rave reviews.