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My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout

A few years ago I read The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout. It revealed the long held tensions of the siblings of the title as well as those of their sister, whose teenage son had been found to have committed a hate crime in their small town. It was a timeless yet timely tail well written. But with her latest, more novella than novel, Strout has excelled in conveying powerfully a mother daughter relationship. My Name is Lucy Barton is written sparely and more powerfully for that. Lucy Barton is a young mother in New York, trying to recover in hospital from an operation, making do only with infrequent visits from her husband and their two young daughters. And then her Mum appears and stays with her daughter, in a chair at the foot of her bed, for five days. Lucy's mother seems a folksy type, who manages to exist for the five days only on cat naps taken whilst seated. Lucy and her Mum connect through the sharing of small town chatter that both hides and reveals their shared history of dysfunction, and poverty, and pain. The way in which this story, this relationship, is conveyed is remarkable. Strout has had to feel her way into the form demanded by the tale. And the form is that of short slices shorn of an unbearable intensity that would have been created had she been more indulgent. I'm fascinated by the way in which these valuable stories are conveyed, written. They cannot be cowed by the diktats of the mainstream novel, for to do so would render it a nightmare to write, and to read.

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