Strout's heroine Lucy Barton—now in her 60s and settled into her successful writing career—returns to explore her complex, tender relationship with William, her first husband and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidante.
Strout’s prose, unshowy, sparing of metaphor but vivid with both necessary and contingent detail, matches her democracy of subject and theme, and seems agile enough to describe any human situation. In Oh William! the narrator’s conversational prose—the colloquialisms, the searching for the correct expression, the 'I guess' and 'I mean'—seems exactly equivalent, tonally, to the arrhythmic lives she is describing, their disturbances, stops and starts, and dreamlike groping. Strout is not so absorbed by the psychic clamor around her to neglect the task of finding the best-fitting structure for her intuitions ... she has managed to achieve, through the most economical means, the amplitude and populousness of the novel cycle, as well as the lancing revelations of the laconic tale. Everything in them seems to fall into place and connect naturally, while the literary artifice through which this naturalness is achieved remains hidden from the reader. There is a sense, too, in Strout’s recent books of her art reaching an unexpected conclusion, hinting at a reality beyond the known world ... For all the depths of anger and despair they uncover, and the bitterness they attest to, Strout’s works insist on the superabundance of life, the unrealized bliss always immanent in it.
... a novel-cum-fictional memoir, a form that beautifully showcases this character's tremendous heart and limpid voice ... Lucy's determination to tell her personal story honestly and without embellishment evokes Hemingway, but also highlights fiction's special access to emotional truths ... A memoir, fictional or otherwise, is only as interesting as its central character, and Lucy Barton could easily hold our attention through many more books. What Strout is trying to get at here — how the past is never truly past, the lasting effects of trauma, and the importance of trying to understand other people despite their essential mystery and unknowability — is neither as straightforward nor as simple as at first appears. Oh William! explores William and Lucy's relationship, past and present, with impressive nuance and subtlety ... You needn't have read Strout's previous books about Lucy Barton to appreciate this one — though, chances are, you'll want to ... Being privy to the innermost thoughts of Lucy Barton — and, more to the point, deep inside a book by Strout — makes readers feel safe. We know we're in good hands.
... yet another stunning achievement ... In spare, no-nonsense, conversational language, Lucy addresses the reader as an intimate confidante ... all her characters are complicated, neither good nor bad but beautifully explored and so real in their humanness ... Strout’s simple declarative sentences contain continents. Who is better at conveying loneliness, the inability to communicate, to say the deep important things? Who better to illustrate the legacies of imperfect upbringings, of inadequate parents? When William explains that what attracted him to Lucy was her sense of joy, the reader can only agree. This brilliant, compelling, tender novel is—quite simply—a joy.