Bare as bone and clean as a whistle. Those words by Canadian memoir writer Fredelle Maynard perfectly describe the writing in My Name is Lucy Barton. I once took a memoir writing workshop with Ms. Maynard and she told us memoir writing is best when it is bare as bone and clean as a whistle.
Elizabeth Strout’s book My Name is Lucy Barton is not a memoir of a real person. Elizabeth who is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge makes it clear in an NPR interview that although her new book is about a writer it is not about her. But it is written like a memoir. A woman is in the hospital for an extended period of time. Her mother comes to visit her. The two have not been close and their family’s life has been highly dysfunctional. The conversations and interactions during her mother’s five day visit form the heart of My Name is Lucy Barton.
I liked the way Lucy doesn’t whine about the difficulties life sends her way. She is generous and respectful in trying to understand her troubled parents and siblings. When she ends her marriage and her daughters resent her, she is generous and respectful of both her husband and children as she tries to understand them and realize the positive ways they have contributed to her life.
I liked the way Strout jumped around in time in her novel. We start in the hospital setting and then Lucy takes us forward and backward in time so we learn about her childhood as well as her marriage and career after she leaves the hospital.
I liked the way several incidents in the book resonated with me personally. I am sure that will be the case for most readers.
My Name is Lucy Barton is a simple, straightforward telling of an emotional story. You are bound to be taken in by its spare and lovely prose.