I think one way you can measure the quality of a writer is by the degree to which their stories make you hold up a mirror to your own life.
That mirror was firmly in place when I read Elisabeth Strout’s new bestseller Oh William and David Bergen’s latest novel Out of Mind. Both books debuted this fall- Bergen’s in September and Strout’s in October. Both feature sixty-something female protagonists. In Strout’s novel, it is Lucy and in Bergen’s Lucille.
Interestingly both women have been characters in previous novels. Lucy was first introduced to us in Elisabeth Strout’s book My Name Is Lucy Barton and Lucille in Bergen’s book The Matter with Morris.
Both Lucy and Lucille have two daughters, they are divorced from their children’s fathers, and have had successful careers. Both are trying to make sense of some of the decisions they have made and evaluate and find their place in the present. Each has a huge sorrow from the past haunting them.
I admired both women’s ability to reflect thoughtfully on their lives. They inspired me to try to do that too.
Strout’s Lucy made me think about why I prefer living in big cities, why I fell in love with the person I did and what constitutes a sense of home for me.
Bergen’s Lucille made me think about the role I’ve played in my children’s lives at various stages, the way travel experiences have impacted my world view and how my identity has changed as I age.
I suspect David Bergen and Elizabeth Strout had no idea they were writing books that would be published at almost the same time and have so much in common.
I can recommend both Out of Mind and Oh William. Although there was some time between my purchase of the two books it might be interesting to read them one after the other.
You can tell someone is a good writer if their story makes you hold up a mirror to your own life.