There is not a scintilla of sentimentality in this exquisite novel. Instead, in its careful words and vibrating silences, My Name Is Lucy Barton offers us a rare wealth of emotion, from darkest suffering to simple joy.
It is both a book of withholdings and a book of great openness and wisdom. It starts with the clean, solid structure and narrative distance of a fairy tale yet becomes more intimate and improvisational ... Strout is playing with form here, with ways to get at a story, yet nothing is tentative or haphazard. She is in supreme and magnificent command of this novel at all times.
...part of the deep melancholy of this novel grows from Lucy’s gradual discovery of the inadequacies of therapeutic art. Writing, she learns, is tantamount to a declaration of solitude, and writing honestly means living close to your hurts and longings.
In My Name is Lucy Barton, there are no plot twists to distract or verbal acrobatics to charm: the story must rest instead on its bare emotional truth. The result is a novel of gorgeous simplicity and restraint.
Great moral acuity underlies the gentle spirit of this minutely sensitive book, which prefers complexity to condemnation. So you will find no unadulterated villains here, only deeply fallible human beings — each of them with a shot at some kind of redemption, and maybe even joy.
It is a sign of Strout’s mastery that the deceptively simple novel weaves together three story lines seamlessly: the story of young Lucy growing up impoverished in rural Illinois, the story of her reunion with her estranged mother in the hospital, and the story of her becoming a writer against the backdrop of AIDS-stricken New York in the 1980s.
Strout writes quick impressions, then moves on without developing these bare outlines into a fully realized novel. She only gives us Lucy’s side of the story, a relentlessly grim Dickensian tale of deprivation, ostracism and unkindness with hints of physical abuse.
Strout admirably refuses to fulfill our desire for the sense of truth we so desperately seek from narratives. While Lucy struggles with the inscrutable truths of others, Strout remains true to a fiction writer's most crucial mission, as explained to Lucy by a writer she admires: 'Report on the human condition. . . . Tell us who we are and what we think and what we do.'
Toggling between painful childhood memories, hospital nights, the marital strains her mother foresaw in Lucy’s future, and the altered life Lucy ends up living, Strout captures the pull between the ruthlessness required to write without restraint and the necessity of accepting others’ flaws. It is Lucy’s gentle honesty, complex relationship with her husband, and nuanced response to her mother’s shortcomings that make this novel so subtly powerful.
...much of the joy of reading Lucy Barton comes from piecing together the hints and half revelations in Strout’s unsentimental but compelling prose, especially as you begin to grasp the nature of a bond in which everything important is left unsaid.
Much is hinted at that never becomes fully realized. This is both a strength—as it reflects a reality seldom portrayed in fiction—but also a challenge to readers who may feel unsettled by its lack of certainty. Still, My Name Is Lucy Barton features gorgeous writing.
A brief, meditative novel contemplating the bonds of family and community over the years, and the quietly tragic ways they stretch and break, My Name Is Lucy Barton may not be entirely captivating, but it is a poignant and skillfully drawn read.
The book’s title obliquely addresses how much a person’s sense of identity can derive from the mother-child bond, but it is about more than that: It also shows how the way we come to terms with this critical relationship as adults offers insight into our own natures and sympathies.
Strout has been praised for her restraint and called 'a writer bracingly unafraid of silences.' But although she does a lot of withholding — to the point of tedium — My Name Is Lucy Barton is an entirely unsubtle book.
[Strout] takes readers into the mind and heart of a woman who has survived poverty and abuse, revealing a spirit that is both beautiful and deeply wounded. This intense first-person novel has little in common with Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection, Olive Kitteridge, but that book's legion of fans will find in Lucy Barton a character as unique and fascinating as the formidable Olive.