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October 19, 2015
Despite its slim length, Strout’s (The Burgess Boys) tender and moving novel should be read slowly, to savor the depths beneath what at first seems a simple story of a mother-daughter reconciliation. Lucy Barton is shocked when her mother, from whom she’s been estranged for years, flies from tiny Amgash, Ill., to be at Lucy’s hospital bedside in New York. Convalescing from a postsurgery infection, Lucy is tentative about making conversation, gently inquiring about people back home while avoiding the real reason why there’s been no contact with her parents. Strout develops the story in short chapters in which the reader intuits the emotional complexity of Lucy’s life as she reveals long-buried memories of an isolated, profoundly impoverished childhood and the sexual secrets, “the knowledge of darkness,” that shrouded her life. Though her mother calls her Wizzle, an endearing childhood name that implies warmth and closeness, she is unable to tell Lucy that she loves her. Running counter to the memories of her harsh, stoic upbringing
is Lucy’s anguish at missing her own
two daughters, waiting for her at home. Lucy also reflects on other cruelties of
life in New York City, specifically the scourge of AIDS (the setting is the 1980s) and the underlying troubles of her marriage. Her narrative voice is restrained yet expressive. This masterly novel’s message, made clear in the moving denouement, is that sometimes in order to express love, one has to forgive. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Literary Agency.
Starred review from February 29, 2016
Author Strout and reader Farr have produced a masterly fusion of material that could easily have become maudlin but never does. It is a simple, yet deep depiction of the fierce love and intense pain of a mother-daughter relationship. At the request of her unavailable husband, Lucy’s mother, whom she has not seen for many years, comes to sit beside the bed of her hospitalized daughter. Lucy speaks openly of the poverty and shame of her childhood, and the family dynamics emerge beneath the dialogue and in the silences between the lines. Listeners reel with Lucy’s shifting moods, her intense love for her own two daughters, her loneliness, and her growing insight into her family dynamics. Strout has written so beautifully of the inseparable bond between mother and daughter that listeners will be compelled to contemplate their own childhood in a new light. A Random House hardcover.
- Sometimes there's an echo of Strout's inimitable Olive Kitteridge in Lucy Barton's mother, and what a gift that is. This story of family, poverty, aspirations, and obstacles is immediately gripping, thanks to the combination of Strout's high-quality prose and Kimberly Farr's nearly flawless performance. When the title character is hospitalized for an extended time, her heretofore estranged mother visits; their conversations provide the backbone for memorable vignettes of the past and the present. Farr captures Lucy's clear-eyed outlook, which rises above any self-pity or melodrama. The conversations Lucy has with her peppery mother are so believable that one becomes immersed in the production. Some narrative gaps exist--but the same could be said for life itself. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine
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