We are starting to see more books by well-known novelists that take place during the pandemic. Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout offers Lucy By The Sea the fourth volume in her series about a writer named Lucy Barton.
I have read the previous Lucy novels as well as Strout’s two Olive Kitteridge novels so I am familiar with her characters and am a fan of what some reviewers call ‘the quiet realism’ of her writing style.
At the start of the pandemic, Lucy is whisked from her home in New York City to a small rented house in Maine by her ex-husband William, a scientist who understands the real threat of the COVID virus.
Lucy’s story brought back many memories of those first months of the pandemic for me. I thought about how we were cut off from almost everyone and everything familiar. How our days revolved around routines we managed to establish for ourselves with those who shared our lockdown.
Lucy by the Sea does not avoid pandemic politics and includes the Black Lives Matter protests and the January 6 events in Washington DC. Lucy encounters people who are Trump supporters and tries to understand their mindset. But…… primarily this is a story about how the pandemic impacts Lucy’s family and her personal life and……..it changes everything.
This really resonated with me because I’ve been thinking about that a great deal too. Many things about my family have changed since March 2020 when the lockdowns and quarantines began. If I look at my family then and my family now I sometimes can hardly believe how different it is. I wonder if I am only just processing much of that change because I wasn’t given an opportunity to do so incrementally during the pandemic when my interactions with family were so curtailed.
Just like in Lucy’s family- members of mine have moved, bought new houses, changed jobs, died, begun new relationships, had shifts in ideology and worldview, aged, encountered major health issues, found new areas of interest, and had children.
As Lucy processes this all in author Elizabeth Strout’s humane and compassionate way she helped me reflect on how the pandemic has changed my family too. Elizabeth ends her novel surrounded by the love of others, but still not free of the ‘sliver of foreboding’ about the future implications of the pandemic for her family and the world. I could relate.
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