Lucy Barton is lonely and ill, missing her daughters and her husband in a sterile medical world when her mother arrives. The two women haven’t spoken in years, yet she has come to comfort her daughter. This story is about the personal growth and understanding Lucy achieves through her solitude and her illness and about the path to reconciliation with her mother and, ultimately, herself.
Strout’s narrative is an amazing blend of Lucy’s current thoughts and memories of her childhood. Lucy’s mother tells her daughter the local gossip about people Lucy remembers, and Lucy’s thoughts return to the painful experiences of her childhood and why she had wanted to escape to a better world as an adult. However, Lucy finds both comfort and clarity during the long nights of conversation and sleepless contemplation.
From a writer’s point of view, I found the book a study in style. The sentence and paragraph structure was literary, which I normally equate to a hard read, but this story captured my attention right away and held it throughout. The characters of both Lucy and her mother were rich with convincing strength, believable expression and realistic, nuanced interactions. Strout wove into the main character’s experience several “ah-ha” moments that delivered a powerful impact.
I thought this story well worth studying in order to use Strout’s method in my own writing. I will be adding this book to my list of books that writers should read to develop their craft.